We've become poor relations'

Plans for a series of national protest actions highlighting low pay for journalists working across the media in the UK are expected to be backed by the NUJ this weekend.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear will urge delegates to back the protests at a specially convened national summit on pay to be held in London on Saturday.

It is understood the actions could include a protest outside the Newspaper Society headquarters in London to demonstrate against low pay in the regional press.

The call follows new research which the union claims shows almost half of all journalists in the UK earn below the national average wage.

The union research – which includes a survey of 4,189 of its members -claims: 

Nearly half of all UK journalists earn less than the national average wage of £26,151.
Almost three-quarters of journalists earn less than the UK average wage of a professional worker of £35,766.
More than one in five journalists earn below the Council of Europe Decency Threshold of £15,690.
80 per cent of journalists would be unable to obtain a mortgage to buy the average house in the UK.
Journalists’ starting rates are at least £7,000 less than the median starting salary for graduates. The average graduate starting salary in the UK is double what trainees in some media companies earn.
One in five journalists have no pension arrangement.
A higher proportion of female journalists are in the lower earnings categories: 70 per cent of female journalists earn below £30,000 compared to 56 per cent of men.
According to the National Statistics Office female journalists’ average earnings are just 82 per cent of those of their male colleagues.

Dear said: “This research exposes the real extent of low pay across our industry. Journalists and publishing workers are increasingly becoming the poor relations compared to other professions.

“Half of all journalists are paid below the average wage, thousands are officially classified by Government as low paid, fewer and fewer can afford to buy a home and an increasing number are riddled with debt as they are forced to pay for their own training.

“Alongside these damning statistics is the fact that some national newspapers now pay rates just half what they were more than a decade ago.”

The research also compared salary levels in the media industry in 1986 to salaries today and compared journalism to other professions. The results claim:

In 1986 journalists earned 131.5 per cent of the average salary of a secondary school teacher – today they earn 98 per cent.
In 1986 journalists earned 96 per cent of the salary of those working in higher education – today they earn 81.5 per cent.

Dear claimed: “These results show that over the years journalists have lost out on more than £1,500 compared to police officers, almost £5,700 compared to those in higher education and more than £11,000 in comparison to secondary school teachers.”

The union blames the scrapping of union agreements during the 80s and 90s for journalists falling behind the salaries of other professions.

The NUJ’s Pay in the Media Summit on Saturday plans to launch an online pay database to track journalists’ pay across the UK.

The NUJ said its research has been compiled from the 2003 New Earnings Survey, National Statistics Office 2004 Annual Survey on Hours and Earnings, 2004 NUJ Membership Survey, and comparisons made with the 1986 New Earnings Survey and 1986 National Agreement between the NUJ and Newspaper Society.

The European Decency Threshold is part of the European Social Charter and measures the extent of poverty across the European Union. It is set at 60 per cent of the average wage.

By John Slattery

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