Express journalists appeal to MPs in bid to secure first pay rise from Richard Desmond in eight years

Morale at Express Newspapers is at its “lowest point” for 20 years, according to the group’s National Union of Journalists Father of Chapel.

The claim was made by Richard Palmer and follows the threat of journalists’ bags being searched and security cameras being installed on editorial floors.

In the email, seen by Press Gazette, Palmer said: “Morale is already at the lowest point I have ever known in this company.”

Palmer, who has worked at Express Newspapers since 1996, also said the chapel had asked him to look into the possibility of making a complaint to the Central Arbitration Committee over an alleged refusal by the company to provide information on salaries and finances necessary for the chapel to carry out collective bargaining.

He said: “There is a good deal of scepticism about the average and median pay figures you gave us last week so anything you can give us that will explain that in further detail would be much appreciated.”

This week, Palmer sent staff another email encouraging them to write to their local MPs asking for the pay conditions of Express Newspapers to be raised in Parliament.

Palmer said: “At our chapel meeting today it was suggested the only way we are going to persuade Richard Desmond to give us a pay rise is if we are all prepared to take action to cause him sufficient damage to make him think it would be easier to be reasonable.

“If you are not prepared to do anything, then the only options are to leave for something more lucrative or stay here getting poorer every year until he runs the business into the ground. Without your support and involvement, we will achieve nothing."

A draft letter, said: “I am writing to you as my constituency MP to ask for your support in a campaign by my trade union, the National Union of Journalists, at Express Newspapers to win a first pay rise in eight years from our billionaire proprietor, Richard Desmond.

“We are contacting faith leaders, politicians, business leaders, advertisers, and others in an effort to increase pressure on him to offer us an increase. It our belief that no employer in Britain in the 21st century, let alone a billionaire whose company makes vast profits, should be refusing to give a cost-of-living rise to his employees for eight years.

“If there is anything you can do to help, whether in the form of an Early Day Motion, an intervention at Prime Minister's Questions, or via a select committee perhaps, I would be very grateful.”

It adds: “I realise that many will find it hard to sympathise with national newspaper journalists. Even within our industry there is a temptation to label colleagues on national titles as fat cats. The truth, however, is that many of us at the four titles and associated websites controlled by Mr Desmond's Northern & Shell company – the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, and Daily Star Sunday – are struggling.

"We may not be on the breadline but we are very much part of the squeezed middle.”

In December, a confidential NUJ survey of Express Newspapers staff showed 29 per cent of respondents have had to move home or remortgage because of falling real incomes.

The NUJ said: “Faced with financial difficulties, 54 per cent have cut back by not taking a holiday, 71 per cent have put less into savings or pensions and 58 per cent of journalists now shop in discount stores out of necessity.”

The survey also found 62 per cent were often or constantly overdrawn and 66 per cent were set unachievable deadlines.

An Express Newspapers spokesman said: "We are a business that is still making the transition between print and digital. Obviously that comes with great opportunities and great change."

They said the group has recently taken on 32 new digital staff and pointed to the growth of the websites and Daily Star newspapers, which have increased their circulations since cutting their cover prices. The Express spokesman said there are "tremendous things moving forward".

Reuters picture: Richard Desmond

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