Financial Times journalists have said they will raise money towards a “hardship fund” for fellow union members at Newsquest’s south London news hub should they decide to go on strike.
Members of the National Union of Journalist’s FT chapel made the pledge today after news that all but two of Newsquest’s editorial staff in Sutton faced redundancy as the firm looked to cut 11 jobs.
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Union members at the Newsquest office have already balloted for strike action over staffing levels, workloads, pay, the health and safety of employees and the reduced quality of newspapers.
If the cuts go ahead, the NUJ said it will leave 12 reporters and four content editors producing 11 newspapers and eight websites.
A spokesperson for the FT chapel said: “We are very concerned about the continuing job and budget cuts at Newsquest and fully support NUJ members balloting for strike action there over pay and workload.
“By allowing local news titles in South London to be produced by skeleton staff teams and work experience students, managers are showing their contempt for both journalists and journalism.
“We call on Newsquest to resume talks with the NUJ and end the dangerously low staffing levels imposed over the past year.
“We agree to organise collections for a hardship fund should members at Newsquest take strike action.”
Local politicians have also expressed concern at the decision.
James Berry, Conservative MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said: “Whatever your politics, this is bad news for local democracy in Kingston”.
Fiona Twycross AM, Labour’s London Assembly economy spokesperson, added: “Newsquest is putting its staff in an appalling position.
“They are faced with the prospect of redundancy or an unmanageable workload, neither option is fair.Local newspapers play a key role to play in keeping communities informed and keeping those in public office in check.
“Not only is this move at odds with decent working practice, it risks watering down the contribution of local press to democratic accountability. That serves nobody well.”
The NUJ said Newsquest is proposing to cut four reporters, two content editors, three sub-editors, an editorial assistant and the deputy managing editor by mid-October.
The managing editor and web editor are understood to be the only journalists not at risk of redundancy.
Titles affected include: the Croydon, Epsom, Kingston, Richmond, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Guardians, the Richmond and Twickenham Times, the Surrey Comet and the News Shopper (Bexley, Bromley, Dartford, Gravesend, Greenwich and Lewisham editions) as well as their associated websites.
Earlier this week it was announced that Newsquest was ending a 10-year deal with picture agency Deadlinepix, leaving the Sutton newsroom without any professional photographers.
The company has cited “difficult trading conditions with sustained pressure on the profitability of the group” for the latest round of cuts, according to the NUJ.
A spokesperson for Newsquest said: “We are undertaking this restructuring of the free newspaper portfolio in south London in order to put the business on a more sustainable footing.
“Regrettably, this proposal puts a number of roles at risk of redundancy.”
The NUJ said the hubs had been a “failed experiment” and said the firm had made a change in direction as it seemed to be moving subbing roles back to local newsrooms.