Observer issues job cuts ultimatum

By Dominic Ponsford
 
Shocked Observer journalists have been given a
fortnight to volunteer for redundancy or else face the possibility of
being sacked.

Management is seeking to cut up to 15 jobs in editorial and administrative roles.

Staff
were called into a meeting by editor Roger Alton and managing editor
John Duncan last week and told that if enough volunteers did not come
forward within two weeks, there would be compulsory redundancies in a
month’s time.

One insider said: “Everyone’s a bit shell-shocked. I don’t know of anyone planning to take voluntary redundancy.”

The
terms on offer are four weeks’ pay for every year of service or the
notice period (three months) plus a week for every year worked.

According to the NUJ, the paper employs 170 full-time, part-time and casual journalists.

The
Observer’s NUJ chapel has issued a formal objection to the
redundancies, arguing they have been imposed without consultation. The
official grievance procedure has been started, which could lead to
talks involving Acas.

The Observer’s circulation has been steady
over the past two years at about 440,000. But it has remained
loss-making and is understood to be subsidised by its daily stablemate
The Guardian. The two papers made a combined loss in 2003- 2004 of
£6.2m on turnover of £227.5m.

Guardian Newspapers chief executive
Carolyn McCall said: “These measures, however regrettable, have to be
seen in the context of a massive longterm investment in the future of
The Observer with the switch to the Berliner format in early 2006. We
would like these redundancies to be voluntary and only if absolutely
necessary will they become compulsory.”

The cutbacks come at a
time when the paper is employing two managing editors: Jan Thompson,
who has just started, and John Duncan, who is understood to be leaving
in October.

NUJ newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick said: “The
manner in which the company failed to consult before doing this is
deplorable.”

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