BBC staff vote for strike over pensions

Members of three unions at the BBC have voted by more than 90% for strike action over changes to their pensions

BBC staff in the unions Bectu, Unite and the National Union of Journalists have voted by more than 90% in favour of strike action over proposed changes to the corporations’s pension scheme.

Today’s overwhelming vote in favour of industrial action could threaten BBC coverage of the closing stages of the Proms and the pope’s visit to the UK later this month.

However, with BBC management understood to be planning concessions on its controversial proposals to overhaul the final salary pension scheme, the unions held back from naming strike dates in order that talks can be held over the next two weeks to resolve the dispute.

Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of Bectu, said: “This is a significant mandate for strikes, which demonstrates how out of touch BBC executives are with their staff. We hope they will now come up with more realistic proposals, otherwise we will have no alternative but to call industrial action.”

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, added: “This is an unprecedented result in favour of strike action and a clear rejection of the BBC’s proposals.

“We have agreed to give the BBC two weeks to come back with an improved offer or face a concerted campaign of industrial action.”

The Unite national officer, Peter Skyte, said: “Our members have decisively demonstrated their opposition to the BBC’s pensions and pay proposals. The BBC needs to think again about stealing pension benefits already earned and retaining a defined benefit pension scheme in order to regain the trust and support of its workforce for the challenging times that face the organisation in the future.”

BBC management has been facing the biggest staff revolt in years over the proposals to cap final salary pension benefits for existing members from April 2011 and to close the scheme to new employees.

Changes proposed in late June include breaking the link between final salary and pension benefits by capping pensionable salary growth at 1% a year, whatever pay increases an employee received. BBC management said the changes were required to try and tackle a £1.5bn-£2bn pension deficit.

Generous pension provision has long been regarded by BBC staff as compensation for salaries generally lower than those at its commercial rivals.

The BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, launched a round of consultation to hear staff grievances about the planned pension scheme changes last month and is due to make a further announcement when the process is concluded at the end of September.

In an email sent to all BBC staff today after the strike ballot result, Thompson said: “As I said in August, our room for manoeuvre is limited. We are facing a large pension deficit and must act now to reduce it. But we would like to meet your concerns as far as we can.

“During the last few weeks, we have been talking to the joint unions to discuss the areas where there may be scope for alternatives. We’ve looked at a number of options and are now in the process of working up the details of what we believe could be an additional workable proposal. We expect to be ready to announce full details in the middle of September and we anticipate that this will trigger an additional consultation period.”

There is also a meeting between staff and BBC pension trustees on 14 September in central London. This follows a recent petition, organised by the NUJ, to force the trustees to hold a meeting.

The motion being proposed is that: “This meeting of members of the BBC pension scheme calls on the trustees to perform their duties to protect the benefits of the members. Specifically, we call on them to oppose the BBC’s plan to reduce the eventual value of contributions already made to the scheme.” – Guardian