Journalists at Newsquest Southampton start 48-hour strike

(Picture from Dan Kerinss Twitpic page)

Journalists working for Newsquest in Southampton have today started the first of two 48-hour protests against a company pay freeze which has lasted two years.

Members of the National Union of Journalists chapel on the Daily Echo newspaper are attempting to publicise their plight today outside a Press Complaints Commission event at the city’s art gallery.

Journalists handed out leaflets today criticising the pay awarded to senior Newsquest executives.

Despite a staff pay freeze being in place since July, 2008, the highest paid director of Newsquest – understood to be chief executive Paul Davidson – received a real terms pay rise of 21.5 per cent last year.

Financial records filed at Companies House last month revealed that the top earning director’s pay climbed from £501,234 to £609,385.

Payments to his pension scheme increased from £38,536 to £94,986

Those figures also revealed that operating profit for Gannett UK, which runs Newsquest, was reported to be £71.7m for 2009, compared with an operating loss of £462,000 in 2008.

The financial health of Newsquest led Gracia Martore, chief financial officer at the company’s US parent, Gannett, to say last month that ‘Newsquest makes a lot of money.”

Despite this, Newsquest is in the midst of reducing benefits paid out to many staff by ending final salary pension payouts for existing members of the scheme.

In addition to the pay freeze and the move on pensions, staff at Newsquest were forced to accept a ‘voluntary’week of unpaid holiday last year in a bid to reduce company costs while those in Southampton have also raised fears about increased workloads.

Dan Kerins, a web journalist at the Echo, used Twitter to voice his opposition to actions of senior executives at Newsquest.

“I worked hard to get this career – and I enjoy it. I don’t see why I have a two-year pay freeze while bosses get a 21 per cent pay rise,” he tweeted this afternoon.

He then added: “Newsquest made an £88.5m profit this year. Why shouldn’t I expect a cost-of-living payrise?”

The strike in Southampton, which will be followed by another on 16 and 17 November, comes after NUJ members across Newsquest Hampshire voted for action last month.

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