BBC Employees Strike Over Pension Cuts

BBC staff are on the first of two 48-hour strikes to protest pension changes. The walkout has disrupted many of the state-funded organization's broadcasts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There's trouble at the world's largest broadcasting organization, the British Broadcasting Corporation, that is the BBC. Some shows are off the air today because of a strike by thousands of the staff.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from London.

PHILIP REEVES: The BBC has a massive worldwide audience. It's even found a place on the U.S.'s overcrowded airwaves. In Britain, it's a national institution, treasured and reviled.

Many, especially the educated English middle class, begin their day by tuning in to the radio, to a news and current affairs program called "Today." For them, the unthinkable happened this morning: There was no show. They had to listen instead to a documentary about birds.

The strike is by members of Britain's National Union of Journalists, or NUJ. It's about cuts - proposed BBC pension cuts - that Jeremy Dear, the NUJ's general secretary, says are unacceptable in their present form.

Mr. JEREMY DEAR (General Secretary, National Union of Journalists): We are saying what we have paid for, we want to get.

REEVES: The BBC is funded by the British taxpayer. It has a $2.5 billion hole in its pension fund. The BBC wants to plug this with various cutbacks, including capping increases of pensionable pay at one percent.

This is touching a raw nerve in the newsrooms. Most BBC staff are not particularly highly paid but look forward to good pensions. The idea of losing these is causing anger. Matters are made worse by the very large salaries enjoyed by the BBC's top executives.

This is the first day of a two-day strike. The action's causing disruption across many BBC outlets. But the NUJ's only one of the BBC's unions; others aren't participating.

Lucy Adams, so-called Director of BBC People, says the BBC's doing its best to maintain services.

Ms. LUCY ADAMS (Director of BBC People): There are lots of staff, both unionized and non-unionized, who are working incredibly hard to get a lot of the output and the programs out there.

REEVES: Adams is also a member of the BBC's executive board. The BBC's website lists her annual salary for last year as the equivalent of $630,000.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London

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