I DO derive a small bit of pleasure in being able to say, “I told you so”.
And that is the case this week following top-level talks between the NUJ and the BBC. Albeit there is to be a ballot of NUJ members of the BBC, over pay and redundancy terms, discussions between director-general, Tony Hall, and NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, did include the commonsense decision to put on hold compulsory redundancies for four months, to allow a meaningful review of an internal stress survey.
This was warmly welcomed by NUJ members, particularly as throughout the ‘negotiations’ on job cuts across BBC Scotland, the union side consistently argued for management to keep staff until after the independence referendum instead of front-loading the redundancies.
Last September, I had put a request in writing to senior BBC Scotland management, suggesting they should argue for increased funding to cover major events in 2014.
Our argument was that a deal could be struck to hold off making cuts until October next year, enabling quality coverage of the Commonwealth Games and, specifically, the independence referendum. The union team pointed out on a number of occasions that this was arguably one of the most important issues to face the electorate in 300 years and we required the widest possible debate and coverage by BBC Scotland. The cuts would restrict that.
The manner of the put-down by management was astonishing to the NUJ and BECTU reps. We came up against the view that ‘it was just another election’ and that no more resources would be needed. To experienced negotiators, who were dealing with problems caused by staffing shortages prior to any of the impending cuts, this felt deeply patronising.
Eventually, we wrote to the Education and Culture Committee at Holyrood, highlighting our frustrations and seeking its support. Unfortunately, BBC Scotland management didn’t always consider it necessary to attend committee meetings.
We continued our campaign while trying to save as many of the 17 jobs under threat across Scottish newsrooms in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. We even asked management to wait until Hall started in post. We were told not to put our faith in his arrival leading to too many changes in tack.
However, within days of taking up post, he was on the case.
He already had a reputation among union officials for diplomatically and pragmatically sorting out industrial relations difficulties, rather than using conflict as a method of change. And the signs are there to support those views.
His announcement of an extra £5 million for BBC Scotland for improving staffing and coverage of the independence referendum is another positive step.
It is a real move towards repairing the damage caused through previous mismanagement and his intervention in the compulsory redundancy fight is to be welcomed, albeit too late for some of our members.
Paul Holleran is the Scottish Organiser of the National Union of Journalists.