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BBC unions end conference strike threat

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BBC coverage of the Conservative party conference will not be disrupted by a strike because it has been called off with the unions looking at an “improved” offer.

The walkout by thousands of journalists, technicians and other broadcast staff on Tuesday and Wednesday would have threatened coverage of the Prime Minister’s speech.

The new offer will now be put to a ballot of members of Bectu, the National Union of Journalists and Unite, although officials warned that strikes would be held later in the month if the deal was rejected.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband had earlier called on BBC staff not to black out David Cameron’s keynote speech midway through the Tories’ annual gathering in Birmingham, saying that in the “interests of impartiality and fairness” it should be broadcast on television and radio.

His intervention, just days after being elected Labour leader thanks to strong backing from union members, angered union officials.

Some of the BBC’s most prominent presenters, including Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and BBC political editor Nick Robinson, had criticised the timing of the planned strike, saying the move “risks looking unduly partisan”.

The dispute flared after the BBC announced plans to cap pensionable pay at 1% from next April and revalue pensions at a lower level, which unions said effectively devalued pensions already earned.

BBC management said the changes were needed to try to tackle a huge pension deficit of more than £1.5bn.

Unions said talks with BBC management yesterday led to “key improvements”, including reducing employee contributions to a proposed new career average pension scheme from 7% to 6%, as well as other changes and a pledge to “revisit” elements of the pension reforms.

The new proposals, described as a “breakthrough”, also included important new measures to provide staff facing compulsory redundancy with time to identify alternative employment in the BBC, said unions.

Staff will also vote on a pay offer of a £475 flat rate increase to all staff earning up to £37,726, backdated to August.

Bectu general secretary Gerry Morrissey said: “The union side has worked very hard over three long months to arrive at this point. 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.

“We have secured these improvements because of the willingness of all union members to make a stand against attacks on pensions; staff should be proud of their resolve.”

A strike planned for October 19 and 20 will remain until the ballot result is known, and unions decided to add another strike date of October 25 and 26.

BBC director general Mark Thompson sent an email to staff welcoming the decision to call off next week’s strike, adding: “We have listened carefully to you throughout our consultation on pension reform and have adjusted our proposals as a result. It is only right that union members and staff should have the opportunity to consider these amended proposals carefully before being asked to take industrial action.”

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