BBC claims the current deal on the table, including the CAB 2011 option, will cost it about £250m a year. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
The prospect of strikes hitting the BBC's coverage of chancellor George Osborne's spending review announcement next month has increased after union members voted unanimously to back industrial action unless the management tables an improved deal over staff pensions by the end of next week.
BBC staff who are members of the National Union of Journalists, Bectu and Unite held a series of meetings across the UK this week with staff unanimously rejecting BBC management's latest proposal and backing two 48-hour strikes next month.
Union meetings have been held at BBC's Broadcasting House, White City – Television Centre and Bush House premises in London, as well as in Bristol and Belfast.
"There has not been a single person who has not said the BBC needs to make another offer," said a source. The meetings have not included Unite, which only represents a small number of BBC staff, but all views are considered to be on behalf of the three unions.
The unions have notified BBC management that they intend to strike to cause maximum disruption on 5 and 6 October, the final two days of the Conservative party conference, and 19 and 20 October, to coincide with Osborne's announcement of the scale of government cuts in the Treasury's public spending review.
Since the unions notified BBC management of the strike dates on 13 September there have been two meetings between the two sides, with more scheduled for next week. The unions have given BBC management given until 1 October to table an improved offer.
Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, has warned the unions that management did not have much scope to negotiate in attempting to overhaul the corporation's pension scheme to try to plug a deficit that could be as much as £2bn.
"Pension reform at the BBC is inevitable," he said. "We have a large current deficit in our scheme and face long-term pressures which, without action now, would undermine the scheme and compromise the broader finances of the BBC."
The main concession offered is a new career-averaged benefits option – "CAB 2011" – for existing BBC pension scheme members. Pension benefits would be based on an employee's average pay from the time they took this option to when they left the BBC.
The current pension scheme costs the BBC about £140m per year. However, the corporation has estimated that this figure will balloon to about £350m per year when it takes into account factors such as dealing with deficit repayments, the scale of which will be properly known in April next year when the pension regulator determines the exact size of the deficit.
The BBC reckons that the current deal on the table, including the CAB 2011 option, will cost it about £250m a year – an overall saving of £100m on the projected £350m a year future cost of the current scheme. The BBC has to pay off the deficit with 10 years.
"We are disappointed that the unions have announced dates for industrial action," said a spokeswoman for the BBC. "We are surprised that they have done so during the 60-day consultation period on a significant addition to our pension proposals. We believe our pension proposals address concerns raised by staff and that they should have the opportunity to fully consider and explore them within the context of an ongoing consultation rather than the threat of a strike."
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