Journalists at a local news publisher Bullivant Media have gone on strike in a dispute over pay, new working practices and planned redundancies.
Some editorial staff have said that during the coronavirus crisis they were refused furlough and were not paid in full on time, putting one in “severe financial difficulty” and another struggling to pay the rent.
Bullivant Media publishes the Observer and Standard free weekly series covering Worcestershire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands. It owns 11 newspapers and four magazines in total.
All 18 members of its editorial staff formed a chapel with the National Union of Journalists chapel earlier this year.
They voted unanimously for industrial action, forming a socially-distanced picket line outside Bullivant’s headquarters in Redditch, Worcestershire, on Tuesday after talks failed to reach an agreement on Friday.
The Bullivant Media NUJ chapel said: “Strike action is a last resort and we continue to invite the company to respond to our reasonable demands for fair pay and decent working practices.
“Working non-furloughed staff, many already on the breadline, have considered using food banks after getting to the end of each month and discovering they have been underpaid, or there has been a 50 per cent deduction from their wages.”
The dispute also concerns non-editorial staff taking on journalistic work, which the NUJ said could have a negative impact on editorial quality and standards.
Journalists on the picket line told the NUJ:
- “After showing hard work and goodwill during the chaos of Covid-19, the Bullivant’s failure to pay on time put me in severe financial difficulty. They refused to put me on furlough.”
- “I was almost in rent arrears were it not for taking night shifts in a warehouse to ensure I had money to pay bills, all while reporting the coronavirus crisis for Bullivant Media’s titles.”
- “While we were already stressed with the coronavirus crisis Bullivant Media heaped this on by not paying us on time, allowing non-editorial staff to try and poach our jobs and failing to listen to our concerns.”
NUJ members plan to strike again on 1 and 2 September and have not ruled out further industrial action.
It comes after Bullivant confirmed plans to cut three editorial jobs, including one compulsory redundancy which was “strongly contested”, after initially putting five roles at risk, said the NUJ.
Staff also fear more job cuts in the coming months.
Bullivant furloughed up to nine staff at the peak of the pandemic, with the numbers varying, and is understood to have now paid non-furloughed staff, whose pay packets were short between March and June, in full. Staff were not told about any planned pay cuts.
The chapel said: “We understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and the media industry, but staff have been left in the dark and out of pocket.
“At the same time the company has demanded more journalistic output and staff have gone without annual leave and there are health and safety concerns with a small, hard-working team being pushed beyond their limit.”
It added: “NUJ members who have driven the digital audience growth at the company are opposed to the divisive attempts to allow non-editorial staff to take on journalistic work from outside the editorial department.
“Copied and pasted government press releases are not real journalism and content that ought to be marked as advertisement features should not masquerade as online news.”
Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary said: “There is overwhelming goodwill towards the chapel among the local community and I hope that management will, even at this late stage, do the right thing for the staff and for the newspaper.
“To be forced to take industrial action in the midst of a pandemic is something no union member wants to contemplate and it is very disappointing that the employer has not engaged constructively with the NUJ.”
Press Gazette has approached Bullivant Media for comment.