Report of Chair Ventures SDC
The past year
One of the recurrent themes of the last year has been the BBC’s relentless drive towards outsourced provision of a wide range of services, and its willingness to put suppliers under acute pressure to cut costs.
In the space of 12 months the Corporation has attempted, unsuccessfully, to dispose of BBC Resources Ltd, switched its back office Finance functions to a new supplier which processes most of the work in India, announced plans to TUPE transfer into the private sector nearly 100 regional facilities management staff, and has renegotiated all or part of its contracts with suppliers of technology and existing out-sourced facilities management.
In an interesting contradiction of this trend, BBC Worldwide effectively brought the publisher Lonely Planet into public ownership by buying the company for a rumoured £70 million. The move left observers mystified as to the synergies that Worldwide hoped to extract, and moved commercial rivals in the media sector to complain that, once again, the BBC was using Licence funding to distort their markets.
Membership has remained relatively stable across these areas, ending the period slightly below the figure of last year. One explanation for this is that the core of ex-BBC staff who have been TUPE transferred out of the BBC, or simply sold off, is gradually dwindling as they depart through natural wastage or retirement, and in many cases they are not even being replaced, denying the union a recruitment opportunity.
Top of the agenda throughout the period has been the threatened sale of this wholly-owned subsidiary. A previous attempt to sell the company was rebuffed after industrial action in 2005, when the union won a stay of execution until the beginning of 2007. In the event, the BBC did not begin the sale process in earnest until August 2007, when bidders were first invited to step forward.
BECTU has been in dialogue with the BBC about the impact of the sale on staff since November 2006, when demands were tabled for a BBC-style final salary pension scheme to be maintained, conditions of service to remain intact for a period after the sale, and a promise of no compulsory redundancies, again for a set period.
By the time that talks became more intense in late 2007, the future closure of TV Centre, Resources’ main operating base, had been announced, throwing great uncertainty into the sale process. Observers were unconfident that Studios and Post Production, two of the company’s three big business units, would be attractive to bidders who now knew that their premises would close at roughly the same time as two crucial customers, Sport and Childrens, moved to Salford.
The sale process began to drag at this point, and the announcement of a shortlist of bidders, planned for early October, slipped to the third week of December, putting paid to any hope the BBC had of completing a sale by year-end.
Contrary to rumours that few or no bidders had expressed an interest, the BBC told BECTU on December 19 2007 that one bidder had passed the shortlising hurdles with an offer to buy the whole company, and separate bidders existed for each of the three business units, OBs, Studios, and Post. All bidders were reported to be offering final salary pension schemes.
Further delays became apparent in the ensuing months, and it was not until March 6th that the BBC announced the break-up of the company, with the OB business unit being sold to Satellite Information Services, Studios remaining firmly in BBC ownership, and talks continuing with a “credible bidder” for Post.
At the time of writing those talks were ostensibly still continuing, but with little apparent progress. Meanwhile, the sale of OBs was completed in the early hours of April 1 2008, for an undisclosed sum. OB members left BBC employment with a guarantee that conditions of service would remain unchanged for three years, no compulsory redundancies would be effected for one year, and a promise that all current staff would be eligible to join a newly-created final salary pension scheme within SIS. They also won a guarantee that BBC redundancy terms, and pension augmentation for staff older than 49 made redundant, would apply until the end of 2012, a demand tabled by the union to protect the interests of members, mostly in Studios and Post, should TV Centre close after the pension changes in April 2011.
The quid pro quo for these guarantees, demanded it seems by the BBC but not necessarily the purchaser, was that BECTU would enter an agreement stipulating that any disputes over issues to do with the staff guarantees would be settled via pendulum arbitration rather than strike action. Negotiators felt that the issues covered by this side agreement were so black and white that any arbitrator would have to find in the union’s favour should, for example, the new employer announce compulsory redundancies, or substantively change conditions of service, during the protected periods. On this basis members were advised to accept the pendulum arbitration agreement, and a postal ballot of OB members yielded a majority of 82% in favour of the full package of guarantees.
In late April the union was in constructive discussions with SIS about a recognition agreement, and industrial relations at the unit’s base in Langley, Slough, looked set to carry on as normal.
We are currently in dispute with the BBC about the predicament of staff in Studios and Post who were not sold off, who may face redundancy at a point in the future when the enhanced pensions on offer to those over 49 will not be available. The union has also demanded that in the increasingly unlikely event of Post being sold, staff must be given guarantees at least as good as those secured by their colleagues in OBs.
Following a meeting last month (April) BECTU is optimistic that the BBC will offer an agreement that ensures that anyone in Resources affected by the closure of TV Centre, or the move to Salford, will be given full BBC redundancy treatement, although the BBC is likely to demand in return that other parts of the global BBC agreement on job cuts this year will be applied, for example the revised UPA arrangements for new starters. At the time of writing the union was still waiting for the BBC to confirm this position.
Resources pay 2007
We submitted a claim on behalf of Resources members for RPI plus 3%, with a £1,000 minimum, as well as improvements in leave, trainees’ pay, and other detailed demands.
After a delay in talks, thought to be in part because the BBC was concentrating on the sale of the company, negotiations kicked off on March 12 2007, only weeks before the Resources pay anniversary date of April 1. Over the course of the next two weeks, it became apparent that Resources were tied to the BBC’s central bargaining agenda, despite being a separate bargaining unit, and had budgeted only 2.5% for a pay increase, below the prevailing rate of inflation.
Following discussion among union reps, BECTU then called for talks on Resources pay to be amalgamated, or at least run synchronously, with the main BBC pay talks, since there was clearly an intimate relation between the Coporation’s main pay negotiations, and the flexibility open to Resources to make a sensible offer.
Management proposed that the planned 2.5% increase should be “paid on account” with immediate effect, to reward staff during the period from their pay anniversay, and the conclusion of BBC pay talks. The offer was rejected, on fears that any interim increase could easily become the actual rise for the full 12-month term.
Pay talks proceeded with the BBC centrally, and Resources members were eventually offered the same 4% rise that was offered across the Corporation, with a 2% rise in the subsequent year. There was lengthy discussion about the change of pay anniversary proposed by management, entailing a move from April 2008 to August 2008. Eventually Resources agreed a flat-rate increase of £400 in April 2008 to all staff to “buy out” the anniversary date. The offer was ultimately accepted by 79% of members in a postal ballot.
Costume & Wig Store
In Summer 2007 BBC Resources Ltd began talks with BECTU on the future of this small department, explaining that an impending move of premises, with an expected higher rent, would tip it into permanent losses. The union was given access to the management accounts for the department on a confidential basis, which confirmed the gloomy economic picture.
Management themselves devised, but then rejected, a retrenchement plan which involved cutting the stock, and the staff, by about half, but retaining 75% of custom, this improving margins. The main reason for rejecting the plan was the fear that this intiative might prove to be short-lived, with the section continuing to lose money, threatening another debilitating round of redundancies in the next year or two.
Members in Costume & Wig, all of whom were well acquainted with the figures and business issues confronting the department, agreed with this analysis, and opted reluctantly for a full closure, originally expected at the end of 2007. Discussions were held on redundancy payments, re-training opportunities, and pay-in-lieu of notice departures. Redeployment elsewhere in the BBC was not viewed by members as a serious option, given the specialism of their roles, althought management did offer assistance to those who were interested.
A buyer was then sought for the stock of Costume & Wig Store, and dialogue with one specific bidder continued past the year end, and into January. Possible deadline dates of January 31st, then February 29th were proposed by management. Representations were made on behalf of members about the uncertainty this was causing. Union efforts were overtaken by events when, negotiations with a prospective purchaser fell through, and staff were given notice that their employment would be terminated in the middle of February, with pay-in-lieu until the end of March.
Eventually the costumes were sold off, most of them to Angels Costumiers, with the uniforms being sold to specialist costume house Foxtrot. Most of the wigs were sold to a BECTU members who had been wig supervisor, and has now set up a new hire business.
Post Production Versioning TUPE
In April 2007 Resources management revealed that a long-standing contract let by Red Bee Media for the department to undertake versioning work for UKTV had been lost as a result of Red Bee deciding to move the work in-house. From the outset management stated that TUPE would apply, meaning that any staff within Post who worked “wholly or mainly” on the versioning contract would be transferred to Red Bee.
Had this transfer offered exactly the same benefits as available in BBC Resources, this may not have been a highly controversial move, given the uncertainty posed by the impending sale of the company. However, although Red Bee acknowledged it would have to replicate the terms and conditions of transferrees inherited from Resources, the company was unwilling to allow them access to the final-salary pension scheme set up when it bought BBC Broadcast in 2005.
This represented a severe detriment to the 7 Post staff identified as working on the contract, and the precedent the transfer could have set led BECTU to threaten a strike ballot across the whole of Resources Ltd should the affected members be transferred into new jobs without final salary pensions.
Although the company itself was minded to go ahead with the transfer, partly because it had used the TUPE rules as a bargaining counter in commercial negotiations over the contract – “take this work off us and you’ll have to take the staff as well” – the threat of a strike, coupled with lobbying of senior managers within the BBC itself, led Resources to concede that any transfers would have to be voluntary, and eventually three of the affected staff opted to move, knowing that their pension entitlement would be limited to (an admittedly pretty good) money purchase, defined contribution, scheme.
Those staff who opted not to move were offered severance based on standard redundancy terms, although two editors with long service were confronted with a choice between redeployment, or a severance payment of only 12 months, less than they would have received under the redundancy formula.
Siemens pay 2007/8
Last year’s claim for RPI plus a flat £1,000 increase was met with an opening offer of 2.5%, to apply for 9 months. Staff in the telecoms subsidiary SECL are in a separate bargaining unit, and were offered 3% for a full year. The offer fell far short of the claim, and a swift ballot, which overwhelmingly rejected it, brought an improved proposal for a 4% rise in August 2007, followed by another increase in January 2008 of 2.15%. Siemens promised that the January increase would be reviewed if inflation were above 3% by the time of payment.
Members were balloted again, and a majority of 95% accepted the new offer. As expected, inflation was well above 3% in January this year, and BECTU pressed the company to reopen pay talks. The discussions were held only days after Siemens announced that staff would not be receiving any bonuses this year, but would be compensated with £20 worth of shopping vouchers – an inauspicious beginning to talks.
Siemens initially refused to budge from the 2.15% figure, and a consultative ballot yielded an 80% majority against the offer, as well as a 75% vote in favour of an industrial action ballot unless the rise was improved. A meeting was due just before conference on May 7th where BECTU and PCS, the two unions in the bargaining unit, were expecting to discover whether more was on the table.
TV Centre switchboard closure
Siemens Enterprise Communications Limited (SECL) announced in March that all EBX operators jobs were to close along with their colleague who work as Directory Enquiry Agents. The company had reviewed that part of its contract with the BBC, and apparently decided that it could not deliver the service profitably.
A total of 53 staff, mostly BECTU members, were affected by the plan, which moves 30 operators posts to an existing call centre in Middlesborough, and 12 service desk posts to another in Wellingborough. Almost all staff were in situations where they could not easily relocate, one option on offer, and therefore opted for redundancy.
The change is already underway, with a number of ex-BBC staff in the unit remaining on the books until the end of July to offer “assisted running” – showing the replacement staff how to do the job. Early reports indicate that the company which has taken over the BBC’s London EBX contract may have underestimated the complexity of the task, vindicating union warnings about possible reductions in service quality.
This BBC-initiated review of technology activities not yet performed by Siemens began early in 2007, and ended with a joint working party involving senior management and BECTU representatives, including me, familiar with areas like IT support and broadcast engineering in News, Nations and Regions, World Service, and Audio and Music.
At one stage over 900 BBC staff were under scrutiny, facing possible TUPE transfers to Siemens, under the terms of the BBC’s Technical Framework Agreement with the company, signed in 2004 when BBC Technology was sold.
Halfway through the review, management made a strategic decision that some, or all, of the activities would be kept in-house if a business plan could be constructed to offer savings. The joint working party shared some confidential data about the BBC’s current activities, and eventually a plan emerged which could cut up to 140 jobs by 2014.
Most of the cuts are either due to efficiency through new technology, both in IT and broadcast engineering, or the result of News, Radio, and World Service all amalgamating technical facilities in the new London BH when it opens. Representatives were willing to agree the plan on the understanding that the cuts could be phased in ways that would avoid compulsory redundancies.
In March 2008 Siemens announced that it had lost a contract with the Department for Work and Pensions, which was worth £59 million, and should have run from 2006 to 2010. Both the Ministry and the company were cagey about the reason for Siemens being dropped, but it led to Siemens in Germany issuing a profit warning shortly afterwards.
Management in the UK’s Siemens IT Solutions and Services, which lost the contract, have already warned unions that this could be an extremely tough year as a result.
Red Bee Media
Red Bee pay 2007/8
Talks opened this year with an offer from the company of a two-year deal giving a 3% increase in August 2008, followed by another 3% a year later. UPA payments and the floors/roofs of grades were to be frozen under the proposal. Representatives rejected the offer out of hand, citing the high inflation rate as the reason.
Further pressure on Red Bee encouraged the company to limit the offer to one year, and increase the rise to 3.5%, an improvement that was accepted by almost 80% of members in a consultative ballot. With the August anniversary only months away, a claim for 2008 was submitted in April, calling for an increase of RPI plus 1%, and an extension of the guarantees on staff terms and conditions which were made in 2004, and are due to expire later this year.
Management have continued efforts to alter rota patterns in the Playout area, as a means of reducing the Late Night/Early Morning Transport bill. BECTU declared a dispute when the company hired a team of outside consultants to advise on new patterns, and Red Bee responded by trying to deal directly with affected staff, instead of using the normal collective bargaining machinery.
Eventually, with union assistance, new rotas were drafted which avoided all of the problems inherent in the original management plan. Liaison with the company on other bargaining business has been constructive and amicable, although Red Bee have emphasised that economic times are tightening up, and their targets for growth are beginning to look ambitious.
Worldwide pay 2007/8
With a pay anniversary date of July, members in Worldwide were in discussion about pay ahead of the BBC’s decision to go for a two year deal in the rest of the Corporation. By April the company was offering a 3.5% increase, with a further 1% set aside to fund merit pay, which is not guaranteed to all staff, but usually benefits a significant proportion of them. Members were willing to accept this offer which fell reasonably close to inflation in mid-2007.
Hopes that Worldwide Ltd members escaped the BBC’s 2% increase this year may prove to be unfounded however. After two pay meetings this so far the company’s response to a union pay claim for a 6% increase with a minimum payment of £1,200 has been to offer a 2% increase in July.
The uncanny similarity to the BBC’s pay position this year is explained by Worldwide as an effort to match the policies of their “main client”. In other words WW management have been told to toe the line over the 2% increase. Negotiators were hoping in early May to hear if the management would soften their line on pay, or find some other way to pad out the 2008 pay award, possibly with a significant increase in paternity pay.
During the 2007/8 period I have participated in negotiations in News Division at various levels, and also talks about the move of Kingswood Warren staff to London W12 and Salford Quays. I have also been part of the BECTU national joint council team, bargaining on a range of Corporation-wide issues including pay, conditions of service, and non-contractual benefits.
I have continued to monitor pension developments at the BBC, with assistance from the staff-elected trustees, and have also been a core member of an industry contact group, consisting of employers, councils, and training organisations, which is hoping to secure a media-related legacy use for the Olympic International Broadcasting Centre at Stratford, which could provide new employment after the Games, to coincide with the closure of TV Centre.
In the last 12 months I have dealt with 23 personal cases which required multiple meetings with management under procedure, and roughly as many again in which problems were resolved through informal means, or members simply needed enough advice to pursue solutions themselves. I have made full use of the Dispute Resolution Regulations where appropriate, and have successfully encouraged managers to terminate staff via compromise agreements in every case where dismissal was threatened for behaviour, competence, or timekeeping.
Since my last report I have coordinated several of BECTU’s policy statements and submissions on radio microphones, the future of the TV spectrum, and HD television services, and have represented the interests of members at a number of public events.
I produced 10 editions of the BBC Informer newsletter during the period, and continue to provide stories for the BECTU and bectubbc.org.uk websites, albeit on a reduced basis now that the union has a full-time Communications Officer.
Posted by Tony Scott
Filed under: Lay Reps report