Three national newspapers head for the ballot box

Industrial
action threatened this week as journalists at Telegraph Group, the
Independent titles and Express Newspapers went head-to-head with
management, Dominic Ponsford reports

Telegraph Group

Staff were due to be told on Thursday morning that more money would
be offered to anyone agreeing to leave within the 90-day consultation
period, on a sliding scale starting with three months extra pay for
anyone offering to go straight away.

The decision to cut 90 out of 521 journalists at the Telegraph
titles was announced two weeks ago and led to union members starting a
strike ballot several days later.

NUJ members at Telegraph titles are pressing on with a strike ballot because they say management has not addressed concerns.

Late
this week journalists had yet to receive the assurances they were
seeking. After a two-hour meeting between management representative
Lawrence Sear and union members last week no apparent progress had been
made.

NUJ members want guarantees that there will be no
compulsory redundancies, they also want further information about the
selection criteria for redundancy, what the cuts are intended to
achieve and answers about why production staff have better redundancy
terms than journalists.

A Telegraph spokesman said: “The
Telegraph management are giving full answers to the NUJ on the points
raised and the consultation process is continuing.”

It is understood that a large number of journalists have already expressed an interest in voluntary redundancy.

Labour
MPs John McDonnell and Austin Mitchell have tabled an early day motion
deploring the action of Telegraph Group in proposing the cuts.

Independent Newspapers

More than 100 Independent Newspapers staff attended a chapel meeting
to discuss the management’s final pay offer of three per cent.

According to the NUJ, the motion to ballot on industrial action was passed by a margin of around ten to one.

Journalists
argued that the offer does not reflect the circulation success that the
Independent has enjoyed over the last year since changing to tabloid
format.

This week staff were told that a three per cent pay
offer, backdated to 1 January, would be going through in this month’s
pay cheque regardless of the ongoing negotiations.

According to
the NUJ the company’s directors have been awarded substantial bonuses
on the back of that success. They have also argued that three per cent
is below the current RPI inflation figure of 3.5 per cent.

Current
minimum pay rates on the Independent are £30,000 for a news reporter,
£29,000 for a sub-editor, £18,000 for an editorial assistant, £35,000
for a specialist writer and £38,000 for a staff photographer.

The strike ballot will take around a month to organise.

Journalists will vote on taking action short of a strike and action up to and including a strike.

NUJ
members are also lobbying for more money to recognise staff “acting up”
to roles not in their job description, the possibility of sabbaticals
like those offered at the FT and The Guardian and more money to
recognise seniority.

Express Newspapers

At Express Newspapers staff held a mandatory chapel meeting at which
around 150 staff condemned the management’s 3.3 per cent pay offer.

Staff are also asking for holiday to be brought up to the standard
for national newspapers of six weeks, from the current Express
Newspapers minimum of 23 days. With many staff on under £30,000, they
have also asked for increased minimum pay rates.

Last week’s
meeting also saw staff ask chapel officers to send a memo to management
expressing concern about the threat to jobs and the consequences for
the future of the Sunday Express that the closure of S:2 magazine could
have.

It is understood that Express Newspapers is considering a
trial withdrawal of the entertainment and listings magazine from
Scotland at the end of this month. Depending on the outcome of the
trial it could be dropped altogether.

Although only a handful of
staff would be affected by the move, one insider said there was more
concern that it would harm the long-term viability of the Sunday
Express.

“The circulation of the Sunday Express has stayed more
or less stable since the magazine was launched. We think the loss of
the magazine would make it less competitive and seem rather flimsy
compared to the Mail on Sunday .”

Staff were due to hold a second
mandatory chapel meeting on Friday this week at which an industrial
action ballot could be on the agenda.

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