TV dispute is set to escalate as staff defy sacking threat

YORKSHIRE-TYNE TEES Television faced a fresh crisis yesterday when staff voted to resist new working terms and conditions designed to cut company costs.

YTTV warned 200 employees at its Newcastle upon Tyne and Teesside operations that unless they signed new contracts by 4pm yesterday, they would be issued with termination notices. They would not be required to work their notice period, but could be reinstated if they agreed to the new conditions within a week.

According to Colin Bourne, the National Union of Journalists' northern region organiser, 'an overwhelming majority of staff' voted at a union meeting to ignore the ultimatum.

At an emergency meeting later, John Calvert, the managing director, urged staff to reconsider, saying that the cuts were being implemented to 'enable the company to compete in an increasingly hostile environment, to get our programmes made by the ITV network which has become a Dutch auction'.

The latest move follows the sacking earlier this week of 150 staff in the Yorkshire area for refusing to sign the new contract.

The company wants to scrap premium overtime payments, replacing them with additional hours paid at flat rates. The NUJ and the broadcasting union, Bectu, say the change could result in a 40 per cent reduction in some earnings. They accuse the company of acting illegally and have advised members not to be pressured into signing. Geoff Brownlee, group director of corporate affairs, insisted the move was within the law and was necessary to ensure 'solvency and job security in a changing world'. Those sacked would be replaced by people prepared to accept flat rates.

The dispute dates back to June this year when staff were presented with a document, Securing the Future, which spelt out how the new contracts were vital in enabling the company to 'compete and survive in an increasingly difficult programme environment'.

YTTV has been under severe financial pressure since making its bid of pounds 52.8m a year for the franchise. Last year the company lost pounds 7.8m.

Roger Laughton, managing director of Meridian Broadcasting, last night called on the Government to remove the uncertainty over the future of broadcasting by announcing a timetable for legislative change. 'Our (ITV companies) problem at the moment isn't the 1990 Broadcasting Act, but uncertainty about whether the rules will be changed again,' he told a fringe meeting of the Bow Group at the Tory party conference.

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