Brighton Argus staff to hold strike ballot over pay freeze

Journalists at the Newsquest-owned Brighton Argus are to ballot on industrial action over proposed job cuts and the ongoing pay freeze put in place by their employer.

Members of the National Union of Journalists voted unanimously during a chapel meeting this afternoon to hold a ballot over Newsquest's plans to cut seven jobs at the Argus and move its news subbing operation to Southampton.

Around 35 staff attended the meeting to discuss the proposals to transfer the subbing operation and two-year pay freeze.

The meeting was held on the car park of a local ASDA after the Argus banned chapel get-togethers on its premises.

Press Gazette understands that the union reps intend to inform local management of the ballot tomorrow with an intention to start the process by the end of next week.

Newsquest, which is Britain's second biggest regional newspaper publisher, has continued with its pay freeze despite a number of its rivals having restarted pay negotiations with staff following the recovery in the ad market.

The decision to ballot by Argus staff comes just a day after colleagues working at Newsquest's centre in Southampton took their own ballot in favour of strike action in protest to pay freeze.

Staff anger about the situation intensified last week when Gracia Martore, chief financial officer at the company's US parent, Gannett, was moved to tell financial analysts that Newsquest was comfortably profitable.

She said: 'Newsquest makes a lot of money. In fact, their margin, as I have said a couple of times, is consistent with the margin that our local US community publishing operations generate.

'So their margins are in the high teens to low 20s. And they have consistently made money throughout the years, even in a year like last year when revenues were under as much pressure as they were."

In addition, earlier this month figures filed at Companies House revealed that Gannett UK achieved profits before tax of £88.5m for 2009 on turnover down 25.4 per cent to £365.6m.

Operating profit for Newsquest was reported to be £71.7m for 2009, compared with an operating loss of £462,000 in 2008.

The figures also revealed that Newsquest cut more than 300 editorial jobs in 2009, reducing the number from 1,936 to 1,609.

And they also revealed that pay for the top earning director, who is not named but is understood to be Davidson, increased from £501,234 to £609,385. Payments to his pension scheme increased from £38,536 to £94,986.

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.

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