Journalists who attended an all-day compulsory NUJ meeting at the Northern Echo yesterday in protest at a pay freeze will have their pay docked, according to the title’s managing director.
More than 60 National Union of Journalists members at Darlington, home of The Northern Echo and sister weeklies, left work to attend the meeting, at a nearby bar, at midday yesterday.
In a memo to staff this morning, Newsquest North East managing director David Coates said: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, the company will make a deduction from the salaries of those taking part in this form of action.”
NUJ regional organiser Chris Morley said the pay dock might be illegal. He added: ‘What this needs is some clear-headed management – going round threatening the chapel is going to be counter-productive.
‘The company is looking to up the ante, and the comments are only inflammatory. I’m sure the chapel will not be intimidated by this. They went into the action with their eyes open.
‘However, there a number of potential legal issues we will look at with the deductions the company seeks to make.”
The NUJ does not provide strike pay, but has a £1m ‘fighting fund’to ensure no member is forced into work due to financial hardship.
A second compulsory chapel meeting started just after midday today, but has since ended. However, another is planned for Tuesday, 13 January.
‘The chapel meeting is intended to be disruptive,’said Morley. ‘It’s there so the chapel can discuss the issues, and they can do that until business ends.
‘It might be all day, as it was yesterday – on another day, it could be five minutes.”
Coates said in his memo that the industrial action was ‘unnecessary and counter-productive”, and claimed it breached the Recognition and Procedural Agreement.
He added staff working a part-day will be treated as ‘working voluntarily”.
‘Staff must remember that their contracts require them to work reasonably and flexibly and to obey reasonable requests in connection with the needs of the business,’he wrote.
‘Where a ‘mandatory chapel meeting’ involves a refusal to meet normal contractual requirements, the company is not obliged to accept or pay for part-performance of a working day and will be entitled to require those employees to stay away from work without pay so that alternative arrangements can be made.
‘Any such employees turning up for work in these circumstances would be treated as working voluntarily.”
Coates concluded the memo by thanking staff who worked normally for their ‘efforts and loyalty”.
Although today’s edition of The Northern Echo went to presses on time, staff have described it as an ’emergency effort’that relied on agency copy.