Beeb delaying cuts

Unions open to offer to avoid further strikes

LONDON — The prospect of a settlement that will avoid another damaging strike over 4,000 job losses at the BBC emerged Thursday after meetings between director general Mark Thompson and union leaders.

The Beeb has agreed to put compulsory job cuts on hold for a year while looking at other ways to eliminate around one in five jobs. The pubcaster said it would try to find staff who want to leave voluntarily.

Execs also agreed to guarantee pensions at BBC Broadcast, which is being sold off, and delay the privatization of BBC Resources for two years.

Luke Crawley, senior rep for the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theater Union (Bectu), the BBC’s biggest union, was upbeat about the proposals, calling them “something our members should consider very seriously.”

Bectu will recommend acceptance of the offer. But Crawley insisted the dispute was not over and that any attempts by the BBC to reintroduce compulsory job losses could trigger another strike.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Thompson told staff that the situation was “a good base from which to work.”

Last month, a one-day strike, involving up to 11,000 employees, disrupted BBC schedules, particularly hitting news shows.

A proposed 48-hour strike was called off as both sides held lengthy talks at U.K. industrial conciliation service Acas.

Thompson claims his sweeping changes are necessary to make the BBC fighting fit for the digital age — and protect its future when it is facing increasing competition and the prospect of dramatically reduced audiences for its major services.

The BBC is in the middle of negotiations with the government over its future and needs to demonstrate that it is being run efficiently.

On Wednesday, media regulator Ofcom added another worry for the BBC when it said that the license fee — paid by all TV-owning households and presently used exclusively for BBC services — should be increased and shared with other broadcasters.

It argued that the move was essential to guarantee the future of public service broadcasting in the U.K. and to provide competition for the BBC’s upscale programming.

But Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government is unlikely to adopt the proposal.

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