Beeb staff to produce series of 1-day strikes

Walkouts planned for May 23, 31 and June

LONDON — BBC workers are going on a series of one-day strikes in protest of plans to cut thousands of jobs at the pubcaster.

But speculation that the strikes would be timed to hit key sports broadcasts like the Wimbledon tennis tournament has proved unfounded. The 24-hour walkouts are planned for May 23, May 31 and June 1, with a fourth expected to be announced soon. The move follows a vote by employees in favor of strike action (Daily Variety, May 12).

The BBC’s news coverage on TV, radio and online will be most affected.

“We have absolutely no doubt that BBC staff will act with their feet and walk out in huge numbers, causing major disruption to program output,” said Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.

“The BBC must drop its opposition to meaningful negotiations if it wants to avoid serious damage to programs. It is time for BBC management to stop lecturing staff and start listening to their concerns.

“Mark Thompson’s (the BBC’s director general) savage cuts package is heavy-handed, rash and unnecessary.

“A staggering one in five jobs is under threat. Quality and standards cannot possibly survive such an onslaught. He has provoked deep-felt anger and disbelief among BBC staff.”

In a statement, the BBC said it regretted the decision to undertake a work stoppage. “We will, of course, do everything we can to bring the best possible service to viewers and listeners during any industrial action.”

Thompson is driving through his cuts package to reorient the BBC as a lean, mean operation as part of a prolonged attempt to secure the renewal of its Royal Charter, funding and practices.

A prelegislative document (a Green Paper) published in February, appeared to guarantee the BBC license fee, levied on all U.K. homes that have TV sets, until 2016.

But the debate over the role and financing of the pubcaster is far from over.

Crucially, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s newly elected government has to decide the level at which the next license fee — due to start in 2007 — will be set.