Johnston Press on 'collision course' with NUJ as members are asked to back demands and industrial action ballot

Johnston Press is said to be on "collision course" with the National Union of Journalists over its plans to cut up to 100 jobs.

A group chapel motion last week made a list of demands of the publisher, including that job cuts and reorganisation be suspended until the company agrees on a list of conditions on staffing levels and workloads with the union.

In addition, the union called for no compulsory redundancies and for "Newsroom of the Future  to form part of these talks where it has not yet been implemented".

The motion also called for Johnston Press redundancy terms of three weeks' pay per year of service, plus pay in lieu of notice.

The motion said: "Members are already struggling because of the failure to fill vacant positions and the mess caused by Newsroom of the Future. There is no plan for workloads and there is serious concern about the type of content that can be produced in these circumstances.

"Members report that relationships with readers and advertisers are already being damaged and they fear for the future if these cuts go ahead. It is grossly unfair to ask workers to make life-changing decisions about their future in the absence of a clear picture of what sort of workplace will materialise.

"We also understand the company is proposing not to replace a significant number of vacant positions, which would amount to those roles being made redundant."

In a note, it added: "We are asking that chapels sign a petition which will back these demands. Petition will follow if you indicate support for it.

"In the event that we need to escalate this dispute we are asking every chapel as a matter of urgency to have a discussion on what steps they are willing to take to ensure these demands. Please let your FOC know if you are willing to take further action and whether you would support a ballot for industrial action."

On Friday, after this motion was circulated, Press Gazette understands that a statement was read out to Johnston Press staff.

They were told that planned job losses will not lead to "onerous workloads or to work excessive hours". The publisher said they would "instead need to adjust our way of working".

The statement acknowledged that staff are "upset over recent announcements" but pointed out that no staff are "at risk", with a voluntary redundancy programme being offered.

Staff were told: "We are mindful of how we will… need to manage our resources and workload moving forward, and this forms part of that management review.

"We will not be expecting staff who stay with us to take on onerous workloads, or to work excessive hours. We will instead need to adjust our way of working."

The company confirmed it will not be filling all current vacancies but said "this is one of the many measures taken which has resulted in VR programmes not being required in all areas".

It said it may be that some vacancies "will be filled moving forward" and that this would lead to "redeployment opportunities".

The company said it would not be consulting nationally on the changes because "we do not have national recognition" but is consulting with Father of Chapels and affected staff.

Johnston Press said voluntary redundancy terms are set at two weeks per year and this will not change.

The statement added: "We will do everything possible to avoid compulsory redundancies, hence the time being taken to review all aspects of the business, including [voluntary redundancy] in certain areas.

"Newsroom of the Future discussions will take place in relevant areas in order to discuss the best way to move forward with [voluntary redundancy]."

The company also sought to reassure staff that there is a "genuine TUPE process" for jobs being transferred to a subbing hub in Sheffield.

As part of the proposed job cuts, the NUJ said 15 jobs will be put at risk of redundancy in Edinburgh and Peterborough, with some being transferred to Sheffield.

The company said in a statement that "there has been mention in some areas that the hub situation is not TUPE as there are no jobs in Sheffield should they transfer".

But it said there is a TUPE process and the deadline for TUPE hub option forms have been extended.

A Johnston Press source said they believe the statement puts the company on a "collision course" with the union.

Picture: Shutterstock

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