Iliffe boss warns union of further cuts

Herts and Essex Newspapers (H&EN) managing director Paul Thompson has suggested that industrial action from the NUJ over cutbacks could prompt yet more cost-cutting.

Thompson urged the union to reconsider taking action over the company's proposed restructure of its senior editorial departments.

NUJ members at the Iliffe News and Media group voted overwhelmingly (82.8 per cent) to ballot for strike action over the plans.

The proposals would include the axing of the posts of editor and news editor at the Hoddesdon and Cheshunt Mercury series and sister title the Hertfordshire Mercury. The posts would be replaced with that of an overall editor and an overall news editor.

Herts and Essex Observer editor Val Brown also faces redundancy. Her role would be given up to H&EN editor-inchief Colin Grant, in whom the chapel last month passed a vote of no confidence in for his part in the restructure.

The Harlow Star series and Lea Valley Star series editors would be replaced with a single overall editor.

Thompson said: "The company believes that it has adequate contingency plans in the event of any industrial action being forthcoming.

"However, any industrial action would inevitably cause some disruption and any downside to the business creates, broadly, a less stable environment which might well give rise to further reviews of structure and resource within the editorial team.

"We therefore hope that the chapel will withdraw the threat of industrial action. The company naturally regrets the action that the NUJ chapel has chosen to take and would urge it to think carefully over its next move."

According to Thompson, management has consulted with staff both individually and collectively, but no formal meetings have been held with the chapel.

He added: "The company listened carefully to observations and feedback as part of this process, and as a result incorporated several amendments into its final plans which were announced on 22 June.

"Prior to the period of consultation being concluded, the NUJ chapel determined to ballot its members for possible industrial action.

"Of the seven persons affected only two are believed to be members of the NUJ. The NUJ house agreement does not apply to editors, and within the house agreement there is a clause that states that ‘the union recognises the company's absolute right to plan, organise and manage its business in order to achieve maximum efficiency in the operation'. We believe that our restructuring plans are entirely in accord with those sentiments."

A chapel spokesman said: "This restructure was cooked up in secret and its actual purpose has not been communicated to staff — although the company claims it is not seeking financial savings.

"We stress that we are in no way opposed in principle to restructuring, just to this specific set of proposals which amount to little more than a deeply flawed, ill-judged and empirically unsupportable wrecking ball.

"If management will set aside these proposals the chapel is fully prepared to set aside its industrial action."

The group includes the Herts & Essex Observer, Saffron Walden Observer, Harlow Star, Hertfordshire Mercury, Epping & Sawbridgeworth Star, Hertfordshire Star, Herts & Essex Star Classified and Lea Valley Star.

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