Business

BBC unions set strike dates over pension changes

BBC Television Centre
Image caption The BBC announced its pension proposals in June

The BBC's main unions have announced strike dates in a dispute over proposed changes to the corporation's pension schemes.

Dates for a strike have been set for 5 and 6 October, coinciding with the Conservative Party Conference.

Members of Bectu, the NUJ and Unite will first be consulted on the latest proposal from the BBC, which was presented earlier on Monday.

If this is also unacceptable to the membership, the strikes will go ahead.

Further action is scheduled for 19 and 20 October, which coincides with the government's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The developments follow formal discussions with the BBC about the latest plans to cut the pension deficit.

The BBC said in a statement: "We are disappointed that the unions have announced dates for industrial action.

"We believe our pension proposals address concerns raised by staff and that they should now have the opportunity to fully consider and explore them within the context of an ongoing consultation rather than the threat of a strike."

Greater contribution

Under the new plan offered to staff, pensions will be based on average pay over a career, and will therefore reflect fully any future pay rises. The original proposal allows for pensionable pay to rise by a maximum of 1% a year, regardless of changes in earnings.

However, employees will have to work to the age of 65 rather than 60.

They will also have to put a greater proportion of their salary into a pension pot.

Leaders of the three unions said the new proposals, although an improvement on the previous one, were still not good enough.

An e-mail to be sent to members of the NUJ on Tuesday said the union did not believe the BBC had made a sufficient case for making changes to the current pension arrangements.

It questions the BBC's assessment of the pension deficit, saying: "We are deeply sceptical of the BBC's figures."

Deficit

In June, the BBC announced plans to overhaul its pension scheme to try to tackle an estimated £2bn deficit.

The corporation said the changes were essential to tackle the ballooning deficit in the pension scheme, which stood at £470m two years ago.

These proposals include imposing a cap of 1% a year on the amount by which pensionable salaries of existing members could grow.

Alternatively, they could leave the existing defined benefit schemes and join a new defined contribution scheme, which is also being offered to new recruits.

Earlier this month, it was announced that BBC staff members had voted in favour of strike action in response to these plans.

Bectu and the National Union of Journalists said more than 90% of members had voted for a walkout. But the unions postponed the decision on whether to strike for two weeks while it discussed alternative proposals with the BBC.

'No panacea'

The fresh plans, which BBC director general Mark Thompson set out in an e-mail to staff on Monday, suggest adding an extra option of a pension based on a career average of salary.

Employees could leave the three defined benefit schemes - two final-salary versions and an existing career average section - and join the so-called CAB 2011 scheme.

Its benefits would be based on average pay from joining the new section until the end of working for the BBC. There would be no cap on how far this average pay could grow if members received pay rises or were promoted.

However, these employees would have to pay higher contributions than those in the current career-average (CAB) scheme, which is due to close to new members. Contributions will be 7% compared with 4% in the current CAB scheme.

Pension would accrue at a rate of 1.67% of salary per year, and members would see their pensions increase each year at the lower of the rise in the Consumer Prices Index or 2.5%.

"It is not a panacea, but in the terms I have set out above it is affordable, and I believe it goes a significant way to addressing the concerns you've expressed to us during the consultation," Mr Thompson said.

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