So, are we in for a summer of journalists standing on picket lines?

By Dominic Ponsford and Sarah Lagan

As thousands of BBC staff prepared for a strike ballot in response
to swingeing job cuts, hundreds of print journalists this week voted in
favour of walkouts at the Telegraph Group and Express Newspapers.

NUJ members on the Telegraph titles voted by 74 per cent for strike
action after management announced plans to axe 90 journalists. A
similar vote – this time over pay – won 63.5 per cent supprt at the
Express.

Meanwhile, Trinity Mirror journalists in the Midlands
and North of England are also going head-to-head with management over a
2.75 per cent pay offer which they claim is unacceptable.

And
staff at BBC Scotland facing redundancy are incensed after Scotland’s
First Minister told them to seize the chance to go freelance as a
result of BBC reorganisation.

Press Gazette has also learned that trouble is on the cards at BBC News 24.

According
to NUJ sources, the channel is set to lose nine journalists from its
London staff as well as teams of journalists in 12 regions around the
country. It will also be affected by 100 jobs being cut in the BBC
Newsgathering department.

A News 24 insider said the effect of the cuts could be equivalent to losing 27 journalists and 1,100 man-hours a week.

Staff
are understood to be concerned about the extra workload and doubt that
the channel will remain competitive against Sky News. The insider said:
“We’re not BBC News 18, we’re News 24. The loss of the regional network
producers will seriously hamper our abilities to cover major breaking
stories.

If something breaks, who is going to be organising
trucks, cameras, reporters and lines if there is no one in the region
looking after network material?”Across the board, BBC staff are
expected to ballot over strike action if management rejects demands
made by the NUJ, BECTU and Amicus.

The unions delivered an
ultimatum last Thursday calling for a three-month halt on attempts to
progress the planned redundancies at any level, a guarantee that no
compulsory redundancies will be made and a further guarantee that staff
being outsourced are protected.

The unions also demanded that the BBC begin consultation with them on the future shape of the corporation.

Another
BBC insider said a common complaint was that decisions about where and
how cuts were to be made were made in secret by management.

NUJ
broadcasting organiser Paul McLaughlin said: “We have a meeting with
BBC management planned for 4 April. They have until then to respond to
our demands so it is now up to them as to what happens next.”

The
BBC announced last week that some 2,050 jobs are to be lost across
programme- making departments, of which more than 400 are to be
journalists.

One journalist who has worked as a freelance foreign
correspondent for the BBC for 16 years gave his reaction to the cuts in
an article published in The Mail on Sunday.

Malcolm Brabant, who
works for the World Features unit – which is thought to be closing
under the cuts – wrote: “Like most of my shellshocked colleagues at
Television Centre, I believe [director general Mark] Thompson is doing
the Government’s dirty work in revenge for Andrew Gilligan’s infamous
story which accurately suggested Tony Blair had sexed up the case for
war in Iraq.”

Case study

THE NATIONALS

Journalists have voted to strike at the Telegraph Group and Express Newspapers.

The Telegraph dispute is over plans to axe 90 journalists. Out of
431 working there, 300 are in the NUJ, whose strike ballot won 74 per
cent backing. Action short of a strike is backed by 83 per cent.

NUJ
members have been assured there will be no further job cuts over the
next year and promised consultation before decisions are made on the
future of the Weekly Telegraph and the website.

Telegraph NUJ
spokesman John Carey said: “We welcome these guarantees, which are the
first sign that the company is prepared to start dealing seriously with
us.” But he said the strike vote reflected mistrust “resulting from the
series of promises that have been broken since the new owners took over
last summer”.

At Express Newspapers staff voted to strike over a
3.3 per cent pay offer and an increase in minimum holiday levels from
23 days. NUJ members number 300 out of 400 journalists and voted 63.5
per cent for action up to and including a strike and 81.5 per cent for
action short of a strike.

Management had until Wednesday this week to respond.

Case study

BBC SCOTLAND

With 240-250 jobs expected to go at BBC Scotland, First Minister
Jack McConnell has angered staff with a call for them to turn freelance.

He said: “Across both the organised BBC sector, but crucially the
private independent sector of TV production in Scotland, it’s vitally
important that we seize the opportunities that might be available as a
result of BBC reorganisation.

“There is going to be a significant increase in production in Scotland.”

Stephen
Low, father of the NUJ chapel at the BBC in Glasgow and Edinburgh,
said: “Doubtless the fact that the largest firm in this sector is owned
by two of his friends, Alan Clements and Kirsty Wark, played no part in
determining his view.”

Wark and her husband, Clements, are part-owners and managers of IWC Media.

Case study

TRINITY MIRROR

Trinity Mirror regional papers in the north of England have rejected pay rise offers of around 2.75 per cent.

At Newcastle titles NUJ members rejected the offer is 2.9 per cent, with a minimum guaranteed rise of £650.

Liverpool staff have also turned down a 2.75 per cent offer.

The
Birmingham Post and Mail and Coventry titles are in a disputes
procedure with ACAS after an offer of 2.75 per cent was improved to
include an extra £100 for those on a basic minimum rate.

The
titles’ father of the NUJ chapel, Chris Morley, said Post and Mail
profits had risen 16.5 per cent to more than £21m without triggering a
bonus “and that’s gone down like a lead balloon”.

Staff in
Middlesbrough have accepted 2.9 per cent, and 2.75 per cent has been
implemented in Chester and North Wales which have no union recognition.

A
company spokesperson said: “Pay negotiations are conducted on a
businessby- business basis between local management and the respective
NUJ branches.

Discussions continue at a number of our regional centres and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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