Alexander Lebedev faces clash over employment rights

The London Evening Standard’s new owner, Alexander Lebedev, could be heading for a clash with the National Union of Journalists after claims that journalists’ employment rights are not being honoured.

Billionaire and former KGB man Lebedev bought a 75.1 per cent stake in the Evening Standard from the Daily Mail and General Trust last month. The paper is to be run by a new company called Evening Press Ltd.

Journalists have been warned by the new owners that their redundancy terms could be the statutory minimum of £350 per week of service – and that those being made redundant would be compelled to work their notices.

These terms are substantially less then those previously enjoyed by Standard staff – leaving the way open for a possible legal challenge under Tupe – the transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) legislation.

Under Tupe, owners are compelled to honour certain employee benefits, such as redundancy terms, when they take a company over.

Substantial job cuts are feared among an editorial staff at the Standard which is believed to number between 150 and 200.

DMGT has previously paid two weeks’ full salary for every year of employment to Evening Standard employees being made redundant.

Press Gazette understands that Evening Press Ltd is arguing that this was not a contractual benefit – so not covered by Tupe.

Representatives from the National Union of Journalists are set to meet Standard staff this week to discuss various concerns surrounding the sale.

Journalists also fear that currently generous pension benefits could be axed by the new owners.

Evening Standard columnist and Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade yesterday likened DMGT proprietor Lord Rothermere to Pontius Pilate for the way he has treated staff.

NUJ national newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick told Press Gazette: “Lord Rothermere has washed his hands of a lot of loyal people who have stayed the course over a lot of years.

“He is not just giving them away – he is leaving their fate to be decided by someone who has paid £1 for the papers and who doesn’t want to spend any more in terms of his employment obligations.

“It’s not unusual in deals like this for the new owner to include provision for any redundancies in the purchase price. It is unusual for a new owner to argue existing terms will not be honoured.”

A claim that Tupe is not being honoured could ulimately have to be argued in the courts.

Press Gazette understands that Evening Press Ltd has made no final decisions yet over the number of redundancies or on possible redundancy terms – pending the outcome of an ongoing consultation.

The Evening Standard has 400 staff in total.

Yesterday, Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley stepped down to be replaced by Tatler magazine editor Georgie Greig, 48.

He is expected to join the paper later this month when the sale has been completed.

The Evening Standard’s new owners are reportedly experimenting with expanding free distribution of the paper to compete with London’s two free afternoon papers: London Lite, which has been retained by DMGT, and News International‘s thelondonpaper.

Media Week is reporting that the Standard is currently testing a strategy of distributing the Standard for free later in the evening

In December, the Standard had an ABC circulation figure of 287,173 – of which 126,346 were free giveaway copies.

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