National newspapers are facing a threat to their use of regular casual journalists as they struggle to abide by a European directive on part-time working.
If casuals are employed by a company for a year, they gain employment rights which entitle them to a staff job. If there is no suitable vacancy, they must be treated as if they are redundant.
One senior executive told Press Gazette: "It’s a real problem. Newspapers are waiting for someone to say, ‘You have employed me here for six years and I want a job.’"
Some casuals at The Guardian have already had their shifts stopped and new ones are being warned after nine months that, if a vacancy has not arisen in their first year, they will have to go. Some long-stay casuals have had no warning and been suddenly confronted with their shifts drying up. They are upset to lose both the possibility of a job and their regular shifts.
The Guardian’s managing editor, Chris Elliott, insisted: "All we are doing is complying with new laws which relate to part-time working."
The newspaper was one of the first in Fleet Street to grapple with the problem. More than two years ago, ahead of the legislation, it carried out a decasualisation programme which brought on staff some 70 casual journalists, increasing its head count to 370.
But The Guardian’s supplements are expanding and with them the need for a growing band of casual workers. Newspaper companies in the same boat have to beware of not overstepping the time limit when casuals work for several titles in their stable.
The ousted journalists can return to work for the company after a period – not clearly specified in the legislation – but, in the meantime, it could leave the papers with the problem of employing a new set of casuals.
The Guardian’s NUJ chapel and Elliott were meeting this week to further explore the idea of having a "floating" pool of staff sub-editors, drafted to whichever department needs them.
News International’s policy is to comply with whatever the legislation dictates, said Andy Kemp, director of human resources. But he explained: "We have no policy to terminate our casuals. We wouldn’t part company with a casual just to deprive them of the privileges of employment rights. If they are entitled to them, they will get them.
"We are not going to start fudging the relationship and severing them just so we don’t have to give them those rights."
By Jean Morgan