BBC unions cancel strike on PM's big day

1st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

British trade unions called off a BBC strike Friday that was timed to disrupt coverage of a speech by Prime Minister David Cameron next week, after receiving an improved offer in a pensions dispute.

Broadcasting union Bectu, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Unite union said they had abandoned the strike on October 5-6 pending a vote, but warned future walk-outs could still take place if members reject the deal.

"We have had a significantly improved offer from the BBC which we believe is the best that can be achieved through negotiation," said Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of Bectu.

"If it is accepted, all the action will be called off, but if it is rejected, strikes will take place. We welcome the movement from the BBC."

Morrissey said a second walk-out planned for October 19-20 -- timed to coincide with a major government announcement on public spending cuts -- would remain until after a ballot was held on the new pensions offer.

Anther strike date had also been added for October 25-26, he said.

The unions had been under pressure to cancel next week's strike, with the BBC's director general, its top stars and the opposition leader warning that the timing, during Cameron's Conservative party conference, appeared political.

BBC director-general Mark Thompson told staff on Thursday that a black-out during Cameron's speech would threaten its prized commitment to impartiality.

"Impartiality is the watch word and we do not want to give the misleading impression that this is no longer something we value highly. To be clear, this is not a comment on the principle of strike action," he said.

Top presenters also signed a letter warning that the move "risks looking unduly partisan".

Newly elected Labour leader Ed Miliband added his voice to calls for a new date Friday, saying: "My speech was seen and heard on the BBC and in the interests of impartiality and fairness, so the prime minister's should be."

© 2010 AFP

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