The News International-backed staff association (Nisa), which represents journalists on all its four national titles, has been refused recognition as an independent trade union.
The Certification Office for trade unions has turned down an application from Nisa after deciding it did not comply with legislation in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992, by establishing it was "not under the domination or control of an employer" and "not liable to interference by an employer".
The company is providing a £250,000 trust fund to help the staff association turn itself into a trade union and EG Whybrew, the certification officer who assessed the application, described that as "a gift with strings". He concluded: "I have to say that I would view with some major reservations the independence of any trade union which had been established and was dependent on a sum of money gifted by the employer."
Nisa had its foundation in various forms of works council, set up and organised by News International. Nisa told Whybrew that it was "only relatively recently that the union could claim to be independent of News International".
It was not until 1995, when employees were able to elect their own representatives to the Employees Consultative Council, that the first steps were taken to independence from the employer and at that time, according to Whybrew, Nisa was "under the domination of the control of an employer".
He did not believe this was any longer the case but felt Nisa had "still some way to go" before it could remove itself from interference by the employer.
Major weaknesses it faced were its dependence on the employer for all its mailings, which the employer might stop if it objected to content, and it had no idea of its support until it started to recruit.
Nisa had no membership subscriptions or income other than that provided by News International, though the association argued that a subscription payment would be introduced in October.
Denis Mann, acting chairman for the Wapping Nisa, said the association had thought it had made a very good case and its executive would take legal advice and consider an appeal.
NUJ general secretary John Foster, who is writing to News International boss Rupert Murdoch to ask for a meeting to discuss establishing a partnership based on independent representation, said: "This is no surprise; it is what we have said about Nisa all along. It is a company union, set up largely to keep independent unions out."
lThe Nisa editorial sub-committee is investigating the purpose of a computer programme attached to the Hermes computer system at News International, which supplies data to consultant Arthur Andersen. The data shows who handles stories and how long they take to do so and is thought to be already in use at The Times. The committee has asked for a meeting with managing director Ian McDonald. Meanwhile the company says it has no comment.
By Jean Morgan