Newsquest pay freeze brings Blackburn strike ballot

Journalists working for Newsquest in Blackburn have become the latest in a growing band of employees to fight back against the company’s ongoing pay freeze by threatening strike action.

Members of the National Union of Journalists working for Newsquest in Blackburn unanimously voted to ballot for industrial action over the two-year-long pay freeze.

This vote follows the start of a strike ballot this week by journalists on Newsquest papers in northeast England at proposed redundancies and the continuing pay freeze and a vote last week by colleagues at Newsquest’s Brighton Argus to strike over the same issues.

Those votes all come as journalists working for Newsquest Hampshire called off a second planned 48-hour strike which was due to start this week.

Staff at Blackburn are also angered by local management’s failure to commit to pay talks for 2011 but said they would be willing to put plans on hold, should management agree to lift the pay freeze and enter into pay negotiations.

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 remuneration increase 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.

According to the NUJ, the unanimous opinion among its Blackburn chapel members was that these facts about the financial success of the company ‘totally devalue and undermine any company argument that they cannot afford a pay rise for staff”.

The union said: ‘Staff are angry at management’s assertion that it’s been a ‘challenging time economically for the company’ when enlightening trading figures seem to suggest otherwise.

‘Newsquest North West results to December 2009 clearly show a £7.29m pre-tax operating profit, hardly the sign of a company in dire financial straits, struggling to break even.”

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