Thursday, 4 August 2011

BBC: Anthropology of Excuses

ON MONDAY, I arrived at the picket of the BBC offices on Oxford Road, Manchester, for the latest one day strike of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) at 7.30 a.m. - a full 3 hours after the first pickets turned up at 4am to successfully stop a senior presenter on Radio Manchester from turning in to work. I introduced myself as the Secretary of Tameside Trade Union Council, who was there in solidarity because the NUJ is affiliated to our Trades Council. At first there were only a handful of pickets at each entrance but more came later including a lass from UNISON attached to Stockport TUC. It was hard to have much impact and though the Communication Workers Union refused to deliver the post and cross the picket early on, after that it was an up-hill task trying to stop other non-NUJ and free-lance workers from crossing our picket lines around the BBC building. Every excuse was conjured up to justify crossing the picket lines: 'I've got a meeting with Andy!'; 'It's my first day at work!'; 'Jill's expecting me!'; 'I think the BBC has got a point starting with closing down the overseas service, I don't think the BBC should keep the Albanian service going!'; 'If I don't go in they will take me off air!'

Meanwhile, the BBC is insisting on its right to make staff compulsorily redundant while it still refuses to meet the National Union of Journalists at the conciliation service ACAS. Yesterday, managers took over the work of journalists while the strike was on. It is said that some of them prefer doing jobs as presenters, more than their own jobs, if only it wasn't for the money. The NUJ claims that the BBC should put its own house in order because 'money has been wasted by the BBC management'. A report published in March 2011 by the Public Accounts Committee on BBC's Digital Media initiative showed 'that failings in the project cost the licence fee payer £26 million which had to be saved in "efficiencies" (cuts) within the BBC divisions.'

Yet, top pay at the BBC is, according to the NUJ, '...21.5 times the average salary and 47 times the lowest salary'. Some journalists see themselves as rugged individualists who can best negotiate for themselves rather than using the union. Egotism seems to be part of the culture at the BBC and the NUJ says in a leaflet: 'Money should be spent on staffing core services, not wasted on vanity projects.' Tomorrow, a work-to-rule will be set in motion by the union but some worry that journalists will find it hard to enforce a work-to-rule given the ethic of professionalism at the BBC. The union urges people to write to the BBC asking them to go to ACAS and look for a solution to the dispute.

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