Telegraph staff back strike action over imposed pay rise

Strike action: 82.8 per cent of Telegraph staff who voted want to strike

Union members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over pay at the Telegraph Group, as the future ownership of the company becomes even more uncertain.

The ballot was 82.8 per cent in support of action after NUJ members at the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator turned down an annual pay offer of 3 per cent.

Father of Chapel Charles Methven said: “We are not seeking to rush into anything – we’ve got a month in which to take industrial action if that’s what we want to do.

“It’s very important that whatever we do has the full support of the staff.

“We are still hoping to have negotiations with management – this could have been avoided if the company negotiated with us rather than just imposing a pay rise.

“This is principally about the figure but is also about the principle of negotiation.

The right to negotiate is what we fought for when we achieved union recognition last year.”

Staff are concerned about the ongoing uncertainty over the ownership of the Telegraph Group.

In recent weeks two of the newspaper’s most senior reporters have defected to rival titles. Sean O’Neil has gone to The Times and Sandra Leville has been poached by The Guardian.

The Barclay brothers have yet to conclude their purchase of Hollinger Inc, the holding company which owns 30 per cent of Hollinger International, for £251m. And lawsuits are flying either way between former chairman Lord Black and the other Hollinger International shareholders.

Meanwhile, investment bank Lazard has continued its planned break-up of Hollinger International and this week Richard Desmond launched a formal bid for the Telegraph titles, as did City brokerage firm Collins Stewart.

Express Newspapers owner Desmond’s hand was apparently strengthened this week when he served notice that he planned to take control of West Ferry Printers, the Telegraph printworks of which he already owns half.

However, according to a source at the Telegraph, contracts already in place mean West Ferry has to print all the group’s titles until 2009 whatever happens.

Telegraph editorial director Kim Fletcher said: “No one here has any doubt about the anger felt by many journalists, though to put the vote in to some perspective, 120 voted for strike action out of a permanent editorial complement of more than 500.

“The 3 per cent is a good deal that is above the level of inflation. We also responded to the union in raising casual payments. I thought we had the beginnings of a good relationship on a number of issues.

“I guess each union member must ask exactly what is to be gained now: is this really to do with a pay claim, about asserting the union’s presence or an expression of anger? Having worked here for most of the past 18 years, I would also like to think we have some responsibility for protecting the titles in these competitive times.

“Ultimate ownership of our titles is likely to change over the next few weeks. I wonder if it is the best time to push for industrial action. But that is a matter for the union members.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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