Editors and managers across 19 Newsquest daily titles have been asked to find reporters to fill in for striking south London journalists, Press Gazette has learned.
UPDATE 6pm 04/10/2016: The strike has been “postponed” according to the NUJ after management agreed to talks with the union overseen by ACAS.
A memo last week asked senior staff to provide names for a rota covering a 14-day strike at the regional publisher’s Sutton hub, set to begin on Thursday, a source has said.
According to one source the call for support was viewed as an “instruction”, however Newsquest have said newsrooms who do not provide cover will not be forced to do so.
Members of the National Union of Journalists were initially set to carry out a “work to rule” action in the south London hub, but announced a full withdrawal of labour from Thursday, with eight local titles affected.
The action is part of a dispute over staffing levels, workloads, pay, health and safety and a drop in the quality of local journalism, according to union members.
It also follows the company’s announcement that 27 out of 29 members of editorial staff at the Sutton office are at risk of redundancy as 11 jobs are set to be cut.
A source told Press Gazette: “The thought of [the strike] amongst the journalists is that it’s good someone has dug their heels in and has decided to put up a fight.”
Press Gazette understands that travel and accommodation costs have been offered for staff providing strike cover.
The company has said that staff drafted in to cover for striking journalists will not be working out of the south London office.
Press Gazette understands that the expectation from the Newsquest memo was that managers and editors receiving it would put forward names to provide the cover.
The source said: “I don’t think it’s fair for editors to be put in the position of not only asking if someone wants to go but actually being told to find someone to go.
“I think regardless of the ethics of asking if someone wants to break a legally constituted strike, there’s the ethics of instructing someone.
“And personally I think there’s a possibility that it could accelerate action throughout the group and I don’t think that’s been thought through.
“We are under pressure in newsrooms as it is and this will further add to that pressure.”
Cover staff are being sought from across Newsquest’s portfolio of daily titles, including the Swindon Advertiser, Oxford Mail and Brighton Argus.
The titles and websites affected by the strike include the Croydon, Epsom, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Guardians, the Richmond & Twickenham Times, the Surrey Comet and the News Shopper in Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham.
A Newsquest spokesperson said: “We have a contingency plan in place that will ensure our south London publishing plans are not disrupted by any potential industrial action.
“It will be disappointing if the NUJ choose to go ahead with any action given in particular that the restructuring of this business is precisely to ensure that there is a future for local journalism in these titles.”