Belfast Telegraph faces more strike threats as pay row grows

Dooley, left, said Curran was offering journalists ‘crumbs, not cake’

Journalists on The Belfast Telegraph have threatened further walkouts amid claims that they earn half of what colleagues south of the Irish border receive.

On Friday and Saturday this week, reporters on The Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life took part in a 48-hour strike after rejecting a management pay offer of 3 per cent.

The dispute became increasingly acrimonious as the NUJ compared Telegraph editor Ed Curran to Marie Antoinette over comments he made in a radio interview.

According to the NUJ, about 80 per cent of the estimated 105 journalists on the two papers took part in the strike. Weekly sports paper Ireland’s Saturday Night did not publish as a result of the stoppage, but The Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life did.

The dispute appears to centre on whether The Belfast Telegraph can be described as a national newspaper.

Owner Independent News & Media said in a statement that salaries at the newspaper compared well with pay in the UK regional press.

But journalists complain they earn less than colleagues working on sister papers the Dublin-based Irish Independent and the London Independent. The Belfast Telegraph has an ABC circulation of 108,651.

In a statement, Independent News & Media said: “The 3 per cent pay offer is well above the current rate of inflation.

“In addition, about 30 union members stand to gain salary increases of between 5 and 16 per cent as a result of regrading proposals.”

The company claimed it was “one of the best offers to any group of journalists in the UK this year”.

In a radio interview following this week’s stoppage, Curran reportedly suggested the dispute was about journalists getting “a little more icing on the cake”.

NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley responded: “In his Marie Antoinette mode, Mr Curran is offering Belfast Telegraph journalists not cake but crumbs from [IM&N executive chairman] Sir Anthony O’Reilly’s table.”

According to the NUJ, reporters and sub-editors on The Belfast Telegraph earn £18,000-£24,000. Trainees reportedly start on £14,000.

NUJ Northern Ireland organiser Des Fagan claimed pay rates on the Irish Independent were double those on the Belfast paper.

The Belfast Telegraph titles chapel was due to meet late this week to decide the next course of action. Fagan said: “There could be more strikes if the company does not put any realistic proposals on the table..”

Curran said 36 editorial staff did not take part in the strike and readers would not have noticed a difference in the affected editions of the Telegraph and Sunday Life.

Referring to the “cake” comment, he said: “I really meant that they were asking for more on top of what would have been seen by the company as a reasonably fair offer.

By Dominic Ponsford

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