Pay freeze for Johnston Press journalists as publisher looks to 'manage costs' against fall in revenue

Johnston Press has frozen journalists’ pay for six-months as the regional publisher “looks to cut costs”, the National Union of Journalists has said.

Staff were told this week that all annual pay reviews in editorial have been postponed, with many journalists not expected to have their next salary review until 2018, the union said.

The freeze amounts to a real-term wage cut this year and follows a year of below inflation increases over the past 12 months, the NUJ added.

It comes just one week after the NUJ won a pay rise for staff at the Daily Express and Daily Star following eight years of campaigning.

A spokesperson for the Johnston Press group chapel said: “News of this six month pay freeze has come as a huge blow to beleaguered editorial teams who put their hearts and souls into producing quality journalism for their readerships in the face of continued cuts, dwindling staff levels and increasing workloads.

“Instead of being rewarded for their loyalty and hard work, they now face the prospect of an effective pay cut in the year ahead.

“We hope the impact of this week’s announcement on ordinary working journalists will not be forgotten by shareholders when it comes to deciding whether top executives should get bonuses this year.”

According to a trading update issued last month, total revenue at Johnston Press fell by six per cent year-on-year in 2016.

But, as a result of cost-cutting the company maintained a profit margin of 22 per cent, which is among the highest in the industry.

The company’s chief executive, Ashley Highfield, received £1.65m in 2014, with £645,000 awarded as a bonus, half of which was paid in shares. His salary and bonus package fell to £581,000 in 2015.

A Johnston Press spokesperson said: “The economic climate continues to challenge us and we need to constantly review our costs to ensure we safeguard the security and future of our business.

“We have balanced our need to meet our costs challenge against our desire to be able to give editorial staff some recognition through a pay review and have taken the decision to defer pay discussions until July.

“It’s not a decision that’s been taken lightly as we try to continue to manage the costs against the revenue challenges we face.”

Andy Smith, NUJ assistant organiser, said: “Johnston Press’s best asset is its staff.

“These are the people who have recently produced an excellent investigation into the state of the NHS and others have won awards for their journalism.

“They do not need this slap in the face. They are already struggling to get by on their present salaries and the prospect of no more money when the cost of living is rising and inflation looks set to increase will hit them hard.

“The company’s latest trading statement said that increasing their audience was essential to the future of JP, but the only way to do that is to invest in quality journalism.”

Johnston Press owes £220m in bonds which are set to mature in 2019 and is taking advice on “debt-related issues” from financial services giant Rothschild.

In January the publisher sold 13 newspaper titles to Iliffe Media in a deal worth £17m.

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