BBC Scotland journalists manned picket lines during a 24-hour strike over compulsory job cuts that caused major disruption to the broadcaster’s programming.
• The National Union of Journalists said the walkout was supported by its members
• The BBC said it was ‘dissapointed’ with the action
Members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) walked out of BBC studios from midnight on Monday in protest against compulsory redundancies. Union leaders said the cuts were impacting on reporting of key topics north of the border and affecting the democratic process in Scotland.
Scottish news bulletins were severely disrupted throughout the day after the NUJ said all its members within BBC Scotland - more than 200 people - joined thousands of BBC staff across the UK to go out on strike.
Radio 4’s flagship Today programme was forced off air and replaced with repeats, The World at One and PM shows were also dropped, while BBC1’s Breakfast was cancelled and news interspersed with shows including Escape to the Country.
Later editions of Radio 4 news programmes The World At One, The World Tonight and PM were also being replaced by repeats of documentaries and Loose Ends.
The protest was sparked by plans to cut nine jobs in Scotland along with 21 others from sections of the BBC including Five Live, the Asian Network and the World Service. The corporation is slashing about 2,000 posts over five years as part of its “Delivering Quality First” initiative. Most of the jobs are expected to go through “natural wastage” and a freeze on recruitment, but some staff are facing compulsory job cuts.
Picket lines were mounted outside BBC offices across the UK, including Glasgow, Inverness, London, Cardiff, and Birmingham. Paul Holleran, the NUJ’s Scottish Organiser, said striking staff picketed the BBC’s Glasgow office in shifts of between 20 and 40 people throughout the day.
BBC management in Scotland have been accused of taking an “entrenched” position over the job losses.
Speaking from the picket line, Mr Holleran said: “There’s been total solidarity across Scotland and no one from the NUJ in any of the Scottish offices except management, which is why there’s been so much disruption.”
Mr Holleran added that as well as protesting over the compulsory redundancies, which he said could have been solved by redeployment, the union also wanted to draw attention to wide ranging cuts in BBC reporting staff and the impact that was having on Scotland.
“The people of Scotland pay their licence fees, but are being sold short,” he said. “Staff are struggling to produce (high quality programmes) because there’s not enough people.
“At the very time when there is a need to maximise the debate on independence it is strange that we are seeing cuts to the specialist areas of politics, education and business. We believe people are being targeted.”
MSPs have warned the corporation that some of its cuts could potentially put it in breach of the BBC’s Royal Charter.
In a letter to BBC Scotland chief Ken MacQuarrie earlier this month, the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party education and culture committee questioned plans to merge the education and local government reporter roles.
A BBC spokesperson apologised for the disruption to services and said the corporation was “disappointed” with the strike.
“Unfortunately industrial action does not alter the fact that the BBC has significant savings targets and as a consequence may have to make a number of compulsory redundancies,” the spokesperson said.
“We have made considerable progress in reducing the need for compulsory redundancies through volunteers, redeployment and cancelling vacant positions and we will continue with these efforts.”
Mr Holleran said he had not received a response to his call last week for BBC management to place a moratorium on redundancies until the corporation’s new director general, Tony Hall, takes up his post on April 2nd.
The NUJ Scottish organiser said a ballot of further action would take place next month, also involving member if UNITE and BECTU unions which represent electricians and camera operators.