The journalists of BBC Arabic are continuing a six-day strike against the management for what a representative has described as treating them like slaves. The strike began on 29 July.
The staff has railed against a change in their rota that means they will work an extra 26 days per year, but those on strike say that is the tip of the iceberg, as working conditions have deteriorated to an extent that is affecting their job performance.
“The reason for the strike is not just the rota, the reason is mismanagement and favoritism. The current management is dealing with us like we are slaves; that is the word that sums everything up,” one of the strikers, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“The rota is a small part of the strike but it will damage our personal lives – we will work an extra 26 days and working hours are not safe at all,” the staffer added. Ambiguity regarding how the rota will be implemented is also a matter of concern, as the journalists feel it is open to exploitation.
The strike, now entering its fourth day, has affected the channel’s programming, which has been running repeats and documentaries since the strike started. BBC Arabic employees decided to implement a work-to-rule, a form of industrial action that sees employees do the minimum mandated in their contract, but nothing more.
The decision to strike was sparked by the rota change, but the strikers also complain that there is a disparity between their treatment and treatment of staff at other BBC departments, especially regarding salaries, according to notes from a meeting of Britain’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
In the notes, union members accuse management of favoritism that includes “secretly appointing jobs, secretly changing contract types or jobs, and secretly increasing salaries selectively on unknown criteria.”
The BBC released a statement expressing “disappointment” with the decision to strike: “The BBC considers this strike action to be unjustified. BBC Arabic staff are being treated no differently to other parts of the BBC, and these changes to shift patterns are in line with current practice across other areas of the organization.”
“We know the high esteem that audiences have for BBC Arabic across the Middle East and will take measures to ensure that all BBC Arabic programming and online services continue uninterrupted,” it continued. “The BBC is committed to finding a constructive way forward in dialogue with staff and is open to further meaningful discussions.”
However, the journalists claim that the organization is not willing to negotiate, and an attempt by the NUJ to bring in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to mediate was refused.
“The BBC has so far refused the NUJ offer to use the conciliation service ACAS to resolve the dispute,” the NUJ said in a statement, “NUJ members say they are willing to take part in meaningful talks with management, which would lead to fair agreement.”
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said in a statement that recent proposals regarding BBC Arabic staff leave them at risk of exploitation and favoritism.
“The strike is only a way to achieve our goals. We are open to negotiations but the management are not,” the staff journalist Al-Masry Al-Youm spoke to said.