Entertainment & Arts

Unions suspend BBC strike action

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Media captionJeremy Dear said members would be consulted

BBC unions have called off a two-day strike which threatened to affect coverage of next week's Conservative Party conference.

Journalists, technicians and other broadcast staff were due to walk out on October 5 and 6 in a pensions dispute.

But the National Union of Journalists said the BBC had made a "significant new offer" over proposed changes.

However, the union said, if it was rejected by members, four days of strike action could still go ahead.

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: "We have received in the past few hours what we consider to be a significant new offer from the BBC.

"There are still some issues to be clarified around it, so we're going to consult with our members and see what they think of it. But we have achieved a great deal in terms of making the BBC move from their original, extremely punitive proposals to something we think is fairer."

The strike call came after a BBC announcement of plans to cap increases in pensionable pay at 1% from next April and revalue pensions at a lower level.

Mr Dear added: "We're not saying it's a done deal yet - we're going to consult with members and therefore in order for that to happen we've called off the first two strike dates, but we've left two strike days on the 19 and 20 October and been given the authority by our members to call further strike dates should that be necessary."

In an email to staff, BBC Director General Mark Thompson welcomed the decision to suspend the planned industrial action.

Explaining the corporation's new pension offer, he said: "We have listened carefully to you throughout our consultation on pension reform and have adjusted our proposals as a result".

However, he added, the latest proposal represented the BBC's "final position".

"We cannot and will not make any adjustments to them which would involve further cost or any loss of future affordability."

'Impartiality and fairness'

Under the BBC's new offer, the amount employees would have to pay into the pension scheme has been reduced from 7% to 6%.

In return, they would get a career-average benefit pension - based on the average salary over an employee's entire career - that would be revalued by up to 4% each year. The previous offer was 2.5%.

When employees draw their pension, payments will increase automatically each year in line with inflation, by up to 4% - again up from a previous offer of 2.5%.

The NUJ estimated the BBC's new offer was worth £14-20m annually.

National officer for Unite, Peter Skyte, said: "The BBC has made some attempt to bridge the gap between us in order to resolve this dispute."

And Gerry Morrissey from Bectu added: "We believe that the current proposals are certainly the best that can be achieved without industrial action and on this basis we will be consulting our members further."

Union members had been planning to strike on 5 and 6 October, dates which clash with the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband urged BBC staff not go ahead with the industrial action, saying it was only fair that Prime Minister David Cameron's speech was covered by the BBC.

"My speech was seen and heard on the BBC and in the interests of impartiality and fairness, so the prime minister's should be," he said.

Mr Miliband's call comes a day after several BBC news presenters and journalists wrote a letter to the NUJ, saying they had "serious concerns" about the industrial action.

Newsnight presenters Jeremy Paxman and Emily Maitlis were among the 36 signatories who claimed that the strike risked "looking unduly partisan".

The second planned 48-hour walkout will hit BBC coverage of chancellor George Osborne's spending review announcement if it goes ahead on 19 and 20 October.

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