Radio freelances ‘strike’

FREELANCES who specialise in making radio features for the BBC stopped work for the day on 1 December in protest at a long-term freeze in their day-rates. The freelances work mostly for magazine programmes like Radio 4's Woman's Hour, You and Yours and Sunday.

'Warning - the radio steals' (anon, Paris May '68, amended)
'Warning - the radio steals' (anon, Paris May '68, amended)
This "strike" was the latest move in a campaign by the UK Freelance Network - a loose association of members of the NUJ, technicians' union BECTU, the Society of Authors and others - to bring the BBC into meaningful negotiations with their members' unions. Talks so far have been led by the NUJ.

The first shot was fired in October 2004 with a letter signed by 72 regular and experienced Radio 4 freelances to the BBC's chief negotiator, requesting the BBC to restore the value of the minimum day rate, which has been ravaged by inflation since it was last increased in the early 90s, and to introduce annual increments in line with staff pay rises.

That letter produced a response from the BBC, and the NUJ's Freelance Organiser, John Toner, has been leading the negotiations that followed. However there is now a stalemate: the BBC concedes the principle of annual increments, but insists they must start with the present rate of £106 - with no cost-of-living increase to restore that rate to its real value.

An ingenious suggestion by the Manchester organiser Miles Barter seemed to offer a way through the log-jam, but the BBC negotiator reported that the departments concerned would not countenance this solution (which involved additional higher rates for experience, just as the BBC used to be able to do).

Hence the "Day of Action" on 1 December. As well as withdrawing from feature-making that day, northern freelances met in Manchester to plan the next move. The main decision from that meeting was to start a fresh drive to recruit non-members into the NUJ, and to move towards more formal industrial action.

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