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UTV protest rally strikes seasonal note

17 December 2008

NUJ and BECTU Members struck a seasonal note when they staged a lunch time protest at UTV Television in Belfast this afternoon in protest at redundancy plans by the company.

Colleagues from BBC, RTÉ and Northern Ireland newspapers joined UTV staff to highlight the unacceptable redundancy criteria put forward by the company. UTV has also refused to attend Labour Relations Agency (LRA) conciliation meetings.

Carrying banners declaring "These turkeys aren't voting for Christmas" and "He's making a list, he's checking it twice", union members sent a clear signal to management that they would not accept unfair selection criteria.

They were joined by NUJ NEC Members, Bob Miller and Eamon McCann; Peter Bunting, ICTU Asst GEn Sec, and representatives of Belfast & District Trades Council and sister union UNISON.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, says the refusal by Michael Wilson, Managing Director, UTV Television, to take part in immediate LRA conciliation was:

"…unfortunately characteristic of the manner in which UTV Television has treated its workers, trade unions, public representatives and the viewing public.
"Last night, Mr Wilson informed the Labour Relations Agency that the company felt that there is 'little to be achieved by way of conciliation at this juncture'. Given the uncertain climate within the company and the deadline of 31 January for the receipt of applications for a voluntary redundancy scheme, Mr Wilson's statement is inexplicable.
"The company has threatened compulsory redundancies and a climate of fear is pervasive throughout the organisation. This has not been helped by managements decision to terminate the consultation process without entering into meaningful negotiations. We have been refused basic information on the implication of redundancies for staff who remain and on the health and safety implications of new work practices while the company has flatly refused to allow discussion on alternatives to redundancies."

In relation to the selection to be used for redundancy, Séamus Dooley said that BECTU and the NUJ had no option but to reject out of hand a redundancy criteria that was clearly discriminatory and sought to penalise workers for insisting on their employment rights. Workers would be assessed on their willingness to work through lunch and to work outside contracted hours with apparently no regard for the provision of the Working Time Act.

Some of the criteria were "bizarre", Séamus Dooley said, such as treatment of visiting VIPs and questions about on screen "presence" that had not been defined.

Séamus Dooley added:

"The unions had a particular concern about potential discrimination in relation to onscreen broadcasters and the use of the word 'talent' by the company, which had not been defined. Our concerns in relation to potential discrimination on the basis of age and gender were simply not addressed.
"Workers at UTV simply want management to adhere to their obligations in relation to the consultation process. Media organisations are not above the law. By agreeing to attend the Labour Relations Agency, the company could dispel the strong public impression that it disrespects workers and public representatives in Northern Ireland who, through the Northern Ireland Assembly, have urged meaningful negotiations.
"By agreeing to engage in meaningful negotiations, Mr Wilson could help make Christmas for UTV workers a little less miserable."

Tags: , redundancies, broadcasting, utv, bectu, belfast, ictu, unison, labour relations agency, trades councils, nec, discrimination, ageism, gender