Northern Ireland political leaders urge UTV to halt job cuts
10 November 2008
The leaders of all the main political parties in Northern Ireland have united to urge independent broadcaster UTV to halt proposed jobs cuts at the company.
Peter Robinson, First Minister and DUP leader; Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister; Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin President; Sir Reg Empey, Ulster Unionist Party leader; Mark Durkan, SDLP leader; David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party, and Dawn Purvis, PUP Leader, have signed a petition urging UTV to at least allow proper consultation and a final Ofcom report to be completed in 2009 before it makes any cuts.
The petition is a significant boost to the joint NUJ/BECTU campaign to avert job losses at the television service. Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, today hailed the cross-party support as "an unprecedented development, which must be taken seriously."
"This united stand says much about the important role played by UTV in the life of Northern Ireland and reflects wider public concern."
The party leaders are concerned that UTV is going ahead with its plans while the Ofcom consultation on the future of broadcasting is still ongoing. The final Ofcom report will be published in the first half of next year.
They say they understand the nature of the financial and regulatory pressures UTV faces, but that it is reasonable to at least ask the company to halt its plans to allow both discussions to take place and the final Ofcom report to be published.
UTV has set a deadline of 24 November for employees to sign up to a voluntary redundancy programme, warning staff that a subsequent compulsory redundancy package will be much less favourable.
The NUJ chapel at UTV has welcomed a decision by the company's Managing Director Michael Wilson to meet Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, on Friday afternoon and the decision to begin formal consultation and negotiation on the proposed redundancies. The negotiations, jointly with the NUJ and BECTU, are to begin on Wednesday.
Séamus Dooley said:
"This was the first time that the NUJ at this level has been engaged in direct discussions with senior management at UTV. The chapel clearly welcomes the commitment to meaningful negotiations and we look forward to discussions which we hope will avert major job losses.
"We remain gravely concerned at the threat to employment and are not convinced by Mr Wilson's claims that quality programming can be maintained against the level of cutbacks proposed."
Ofcom has been conducting a series of consultations ahead of digital switchover. The present one is phase two and consultation ends on December 5 with the organisation expected to report in early 2009.