Newsquest has challenged a planned strike in the North East saying that subs whose jobs are moving 270 miles away to Newport are not being made redundant.
The company said it believes the ballot in favour of a 24-hour strike starting at midnight tonight on titles in Bradford, Darlington and York is “invalid”. And it has suggested that staff who do go on the strike could be in breach of their contracts of employment.
Anyone going on strike has been told that a deduction will be made from their salaries. And anyone calling in sick tomorrow has been told they will have to produce a doctor’s note.
Around 25 sub-editors on titles including the Northern Echo, The Press in York and the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford have been told their jobs are moving up to 270-miles away to what the NUJ has called a “super subbing-hub” in Newport, Wales.
Press Gazette understands that those who have rejected the Newport jobs have been told that they do not qualify for redundancy – even though no relocation package has been offered,
One Newsquest insider told Press Gazette: “Newsquest is arguing that transferring jobs to Newport is covered by TUPE and is being obstructive about paying redundancy.
“The subs going through the wringer have been on hold for the past two months with no dates for leaving or agreements reached. The impression is that Newsquest want staff to find new jobs and leave before it has to pay them off.”
Newsquest Bradford group editor Perry Austin-Clarke warned staff of the possible consequences of going on staff in the following email:
I note with regret that the NUJ have balloted their members for industrial action in relation to the current restructure proposal and have decided to take strike action on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. We believe that the action is unnecessary and counter-productive.
We must make you aware that the company has grave concerns as to the validity of this ballot paper.
On review of the balloting process, the company believes the ballot is invalid due to the fact that the Union have failed to provide the company with the correct notification, in that this restructure is a TUPE transfer and employees have a choice as to whether they transfer to Newport, where there are enough roles for those wishing to continue their employment with the company. However, should the employees choose not to transfer they may opt for a payment with a settlement agreement. No employee will be made compulsorily redundant by Newsquest (Yorkshire and North East) Limited as stated in the ballot paper.
Therefore, for the avoidance of doubt, in the event that you decide to take part in the industrial action you may not receive the statutory immunity and may be in breach of your contract of employment with us.
You must remember that your contracts require you to work reasonably and flexibly and to obey reasonable requests in connection with the needs of the business. The company is not obliged to accept or pay for part-performance of a working day and will be entitled to require those employees to stay away from work without pay so that alternative arrangements can be made. Any such employees turning up for work in these circumstances would be treated as working voluntarily.
For the avoidance of doubt, the company will make a deduction from the salaries of those taking part in any industrial action.
Unfortunately, due to the NUJ actions, special conditions will have to apply during this period:
Employees taking sickness absence on the day in which the NUJ have notified the company of industrial action will be required to provide a fit note to cover all absence during that period. There is a discretionary element for payment of Occupational Sick Pay.
Annual leave will only be granted during this period in exceptional circumstances.
NUJ northern and Midlands organiser Chris Morley said: "If you go on strike you are always in breach of your contract. Under UK law you have immunity if it is a lawful ballot.
"In this case we've held a ballot and we regard it as lawful. We don't believe the company's case has any merit and there has been no threat of an injunction.
"This dispute is not just about the jobs it's also about the workload for those who remain and the quality of the product. We have seen some pretty horrendous examples of publications that have come out of the hubs."
Press Gazette has emailed Newsquest chief executive Paul Davidson for a comment on the latest strike plan. Davidson, who steps down in April, has never responded to an inquiry from Press Gazette.