Debate: were the BBC justified in striking over pensions?

Now that all the furore has died down, The Student and The Chancer assess whether the BBC were right to strike over cuts to their pension.


FOR: The Chancer

A lot of the public attention from these strikes centred around the big names who didn’t cross the picket line and the fact that we were left with some nobody from Hampshire on breakfast and a second string XI to run the other shows. Once the big names started staying at home it was no longer about the action, or it’s cause; it’s the actors in the piece who matter.

And that is one of the problems here. Because now when we hear about BBC staff striking we think of Huw Edwards, Sophie Raworth and George Alagiah and grumble at these well-paid presenters who have temerity to demand more money. But it isn’t just about them. It is about everyone else at the Beeb who feels they are getting a raw deal.

All those members of staff who believe they have had their pension funds ‘stolen’ and are not being offered a fair deal, they are the people who matter – they are the people with the placards outside Television Centre. There are not many people who would strike without good reason (despite what certain people would have you think about students) and just because these people work at the BBC should not inhibit their right to strike.

Many make the argument that the BBC’s unique selling point is the service it provides and that is most certainly true. What I believe is not correct is that this unique service or the mention of a few big name presenters should detract from or prevent those NUJ members striking if they feel they have been wronged. We rely on the BBC for so many things both in terms, news, TV shows, sport coverage, so then why shouldn’t we rely on them to stand up for themselves too?

Forget the context. Forget the company. If these BBC workers have been offered a bum deal they should strike regardless. Even if it does mean some people can’t listen to the Today programme.

The Student

AGAINST: The Student

The semantics of the debate here are important.

NUJ members within the BBC have a right to strike, let’s get that straight. It is a fundamental concept and not something it is possible to argue against. But being able to do so, having the option, is a very long way from being justified in actually doing it. And the issue, for me, is the BBC’s public service remit.

Those three small words are so key that they (should) put the public at the forefront of all the BBC does. And, forgive me if this sounds a little glib, but the BBC did not deliver on their public purpose when their employees joined the picket line at the weekend and disrupted services, including Radio Four’s  Today programme. In that situation, the BBC loses what makes them so different.

On top of that, the BBC’s importance within the UK is unheralded. It sets the standards of journalism from which the rest of us not only follow but look up to. Although that doesn’t mean its employees shouldn’t strike, the Beeb must be more conscious of the decision to strike. Iain McWhirter, the award-winning political columnist, touches on this idea in his Scottish Herald comment piece, suggesting that the BBC ‘must try to understand how they are viewed from outside the protected world of state service’.

The answer? To strike only as a last resort, not on a whim.


About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

4 Responses to Debate: were the BBC justified in striking over pensions?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Debate: were the BBC justified in striking over pensions? « Wannabe Hacks --

  2. Peter Demain says:

    Ben began noting semantics, and concluded on saying the strike was on a ‘whim’. Those following this pensions issue will know the idea of a strike has been around for months. Isn’t that turn of phrase is questionable in itself?

    The BBC can replace journalists for the reasons both of you alluded to surrounding prestige. Positions in there are considered gold dust; even two-week work experience placements get massively subscribed. Pair that with the intense supply in media now with so many wanting to become journos and from a ruthlessly corporate perspective it isn’t hard to see why the bosses are stubborn.

    The notion of any single employer being a ‘job for life’ no longer holds up; worker mobility and whatnot. Age of bowler-hatted lifelong civil servants are long gone. Job turnover is relatively high far beyond the menial. Talent, as the BBC abundantly showcases, tends to move around regardless.

    A lot of journalists are bowing out and going into PR or marketing now: career changes are not near as taboo either, and at fraught with uncertainty as these times are it’s understandable people, especially those beyond the idealism of youth clamber for perceived safety and structure.

    This site is written by young aspirants: I’d venture that the pension age will be well over 70 as it’s neared by our generation. Not to mention the whole notion of a pension is risky as it’s possible death will occur beforehand or shortly after retirement, wherein the return on your investment is pisspoor although you won’t care or exist by then anyhow.

    Risks within risks – top brass despite training costs have ready labour supply hence a tenuous position on the part of strikers, plus the whole enterprise is risky in the first place as popping clogs prior to 70 is a distinct possibility for anyone. The incumbent right-wing government isn’t much assurance to either of these points.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  3. Peter Demain says:

    Oh yeah, the title for this post is badly written. ‘Were BBC journalists…’ would be a better start. Revising the first sentence wouldn’t go amiss given the relatively narrow group of employees in this diverse corporation who did strike.


  4. Peter Demain says:

    A Have I Got News For You episode chaired by William Hague shortly after a BBC strike involving journalists a few years ago:

    HIGNFY Season 29 Ep. 7.

    Thought to append this as a trip down memory lane.


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