The National Union of Journalists has put in a claim to Newsquest calling for a pay rise for journalists and the recruitment of more editorial staff as south London members began strike action today.
The union has asked for a rise relative to more than £1,500 for a reporter earning £20,000 a year and demanded a minimum entry-level salary of £17,500 as well as the London Living Wage.
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It comes as union members at Newsquest’s office in Sutton formed a picket line on the first day of a seven-day strike over pay, working conditions and concerns about quality.
The union says these cuts will leave 12 reporters and four editors covering 11 local newspapers and eight news websites across south London and Surrey.
Last month, Newsquest ended its partnership with a professional picture agency, leaving titles in south London without any staff photographers.
An NUJ spokesperson told Press Gazette both the Croydon Guardian and Wandsworth Guardian had been left with no reporters after cuts had forced some journalists to leave.
They said the publisher was looking to bring the cost per newspaper page down from £109 to £50.
“It’s simply not workable or sustainable. Both from the point of view of the journalists’ workloads and from the point of view of what they will be able to produce,” they said.
“We are saying they can’t afford not to invest in replacing these staff because if they don’t bring in these people, effectively they will be hamstrung by what they will be able to produce.
“There’s a danger of them alienating readers and damaging the brand by their actions.
“They need to genuinely listen to what the staff – those who actually do the job day to day – ar saying about what they need in order to properly represent their communities.”
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, submitted the 12-point pay claim on behalf of the Newsquest NUJ Group Chapel. Newsquest chapels will be pursuing it locally in the next few days.
The package includes a basic 1.5 per cent cost-of-living increase to keep up with inflation in the past 12 months and a 1 per cent increase in company pension contributions.
It includes an agreement that staff, except those exclusively working for Sunday publications, will work no more than one in four weekends.
A request was also made for more recruitment to cope with the demands of the “Write to Shape” editorial system that was recently introduced.
The NUJ said after its pay survey last year that Newsquest was “one of the stingiest employers” despite American owners Gannett paying its top five executives £15.9m and Gracia Martore, then president and chief executive, £7.5m.
Said Stanistreet: “We expect the management to take this claim seriously. Staff wages have been seriously eroded at the same time as demands and workloads have increased.
“I am expecting a speedy response from CEO Henry Faure Walker. Following recent negotiations over the dispute at Newsquest south London, he can no longer claim that local centres are autonomous as the involvement of head office was very clear.”
A spokesperson for the publisher declined to comment.