Johnston Press strike shelved as pay freeze ends

A group-wide strike action planned by National Union of Journalist chapels on Johnston Press newspapers across the UK is unlikely to now go ahead after the group signalled the end of a two-year pay freeze.

Journalists across Johnston Press, the UK’s second largest regional newspaper publisher, were due to hold a group-wide strike on 19 May in protest at staff cuts and the introduction of controversial new content management system, Atex.

But the one-day stoppage was called off after a legal challenge by Johnston Press which argued that it does not employ any journalists, saying instead that they were employed by autonomous local companies.

Chapel officials met last month to discuss replacing the group-wide action with a series of individual strike ballots at the various Johnston Press centres. However Press Gazette understands that the appetite for widespread action may have now passed.

Johnston Press is understood to have opened pay talks at some centres – including those not involved in the ballot such as Worthing and Hastings – and there are reports of two per cent deal being put on the table.

With pay talks across the group expected to run into the early part of next year the prospect of widespread action now seems unlikely.

A spokesman for the NUJ told Press Gazette: “Obviously, now that we are in pay negotiations with them [Johnston Press] it’s unlikely we will be organising a large-scale ballot.”

The NUJ spokesman said the union believed the original ballot process had successfully won a series of concessions from Johnston Press, including the resumption of pay talks.

At some publishing centres, staff have also been provided with new technology and given additional training to help iron-out problems with the introduction of Atex, the NUJ source said.

Press Gazette understands that Johnston Press has implemented a review of hours and upgraded technology at its centre in Portsmouth, which produces NUJ Regional Press Awards newspaper of the year, The News title, and other titles, to cope with the new Atex technology.

An ongoing dispute in Scarborough over working conditions, which has already resulted in industrial action, is understood to have been quelled by the publisher agreeing to fill two vacant posts.

“The position now is far better than it would have been had we not decided to ballot for action,” the NUJ spokesman said.

A request for comment from Johnston Press was not returned.

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