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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
BBC unions call off strike ballot
Mark Thompson
Director general Mark Thomspon says the BBC must become smaller
The BBC has agreed to discuss its proposed job cuts with unions, averting the immediate threat of strike action.

Bectu, NUJ and Unite had threatened to ballot their members on industrial action over plans to close 2,500 posts and make up to 1,800 staff redundant.

Talks are due to be held between the two sides over the next two weeks.

But the BBC says it will press ahead with plans to send out letters asking staff to express an interest in taking redundancy on 5 November.

"Staff are most keen to understand their own futures and we believe delay will cause unnecessary stress," said the BBC in a statement.

"Any period of uncertainty must be kept to a minimum," it added.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), broadcast union Bectu and Unite had claimed the BBC was preparing to send out letters to staff members on Friday.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: "We are pleased the BBC have stepped back from the brink and agreed to union calls for meaningful talks to take place at national level."

Bectu counterpart Gerry Morrissey said his union "welcomed the commitment to reach a framework agreement".

But a letter to members asserted that the "joint unions reserve the right to commence a ballot for strike action at any point".

"If a framework agreement is not concluded by 5 November we will begin the industrial action ballot process," it continued.

The exchange follows the announcement of plans to reduce the size of the BBC.

Smaller BBC

Press speculation has suggested that programmes including Strictly Come Dancing, Match of the Day and news bulletins could be affected by any strike action.

However, most shows went ahead the last time BBC staff went on strike in 2005.

Director general Mark Thompson revealed his six-year plan for a "smaller, but fitter, BBC" on Thursday.

He said TV audiences could expect more repeats and fewer original programmes - but promised that quality would be maintained.

The BBC will also sell off its flagship Television Centre in west London as it attempts to make up a 2bn budget shortfall.

Up to 1,800 staff will be made redundant, primarily in programme-making, news and regional centres.

The broadcasting unions - Bectu, the NUJ and Unite - raised their concerns over the cuts in a letter to the BBC on Thursday. In its reply, the corporation said it intended to restrict external recruitment but could not "guarantee an absolute freeze".

It also said that new jobs could not be reserved solely for those facing redundancy because some people may not be able to retrained quickly enough.

The BBC said it would only "spend on redundancy where absolutely necessary".

"Redeployment is a critical part of the BBC's plans," it added.


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