The union is responding to widespread anger among the freelance community at what they fear is a corporation-wide directive to alter the terms and conditions of contracts without consultation.
Under BBC F&L's proposals - which were circulated to all BBC executive producers earlier this month (see table, right) - the daily rates for camera operators are to be set at between £250 and £400, figures which equate to existing fees but take no account of travel times.
There is also confusion about how different rates have been applied to different programme categories. The proposals state that for a documentary in the Whistle Blower strand a camera operator can expect £400, but for 'multi-item' shows like Crimewatch£350 and for Watchdog £250.
'If you were on the lower day rate you'd be expected to discount downwards and if it's at the end of a run to do it for £200,' says freelance cameraman Jonathan Young. 'Our skills don't degrade from one format to another. There's a real groundswell of opinion forming against this.'
Another BBC freelancer added. 'The rates were designed for consistency but they've only created confusion. If they script a sequence in Watchdog, which is highly likely in my experience, does the rate then go up?'
Bectu assistant general secretary Martin Spence says the union has written to all 11,000 members urging them to 'hold their line on rates and be brave standing up to pressure to negotiate downwards'.
The trade union has also demanded talks with the BBC and hopes to emulate separate deals it brokered for freelance crew at Bristol's Natural History Unit (NHU) and BBC Scotland.
Bectu took the BBC to a central arbitration committee in April 2004 in a pay dispute at the NHU and forced it to recognise the union's right to negotiate freelance contracts. A similar 'more amicable' agreement followed with BBC Scotland.
Bectu negotiator Luke Crawley says: 'The BBC is pursuing a dangerous strategy that risks a backlash from people expected to work more hours for less pay.'
A BBC factual and learning spokesperson stated: 'The rates are for labour only, and are based on a standard day. Where filming requirements go beyond this, variances on the rate will be something that can be negotiated with the individuals at the time, taking into account all the -circumstances.'
BBC F&L: Proposed Freelance Rates
Best Practice max day rate 11+1 hrs from base (exc. travel time)
Programme type (example) Camera operator Sound recordist
Actuality Standard (Trauma) n/a £250-£275
Actuality High (One Life, Whistle Blower) £350-£400 £250-£300
Formatted Actuality Low (Airport) £300 £250-£275
Formatted Actuality Standard (Little Angels) £300 £250-£275
Formatted Actuality High (What Not to Wear) £350 £250-£275
Multi Item Low (See Hear) £250-£275 £250-£275
Multi Item Standard (Full on Food, Watchdog) £250-£275 £250-£275
Multi Item High (Crimewatch) £300-£350 £250-£275
Pre Scripted Standard £350 £250-£275
Pre Scripted High £350-£400 £250-£300