NUJ: Move to axe 80 jobs at Belfast Telegraph reneges on INM buy promise

By Sarah Lagan

The NUJ claims Independent News & Media’s decision to cut up to 80 jobs at the Belfast Telegraph Group clashes with commitments made by the company when it acquired the paper from Trinity Mirror in 2000.

Since the company offered its voluntary severance package on 3 February, 16 out of 115 journalists working on the Telegraph, Sunday Life and Community Telegraph Series applied, but INM is seeking "several more" editorial redundancies.

At the time of acquisition, INM said its plans for the future development of the paper were not expected "to lead to loss of employment or to adverse effects on terms of employment".

Irish NUJ organiser Des Fagan stated that ahead of the acquisition the Competition Commission had found that the public interest would not be damaged by the acquisition on the basis of assurances given in relation to employment and standards.

Fagan said: "I have no doubt that the acquisition would not have been approved if a slash-and-burn policy had been outlined to the commission. We have seen no evidence of any need for redundancies. Indeed, the addition of a morning title had increased productivity and there is no evidence that a reduced workforce will be in a position to maintain the current editorial output".

The union is urging INM chief Sir Anthony O’Reilly to stop the redundancies.

One insider said: "This is a paper that has pride and a long history, and this is unprecedented. It has left union members, who have been trying for many years to safeguard the editorial integrity of the newspaper, fearful of what is to come."

INM has claimed the severance package is one of the best in the UK at four weeks’ pay for every year’s service, subject to a maximum of two years’ pay.

The company says it has entered into formal consultations with the trade unions and individual members of staff over the future plans.

Editor-in-chief for INM Northern Ireland Ed Curran told Press Gazette: "We are trying to avoid anything that would go beyond voluntary severance.

I think it is in line with more generous terms being offered, certainly in the newspaper industry, and it’s attracted a considerable amount of applications.

"The reality is that newspapers throughout the UK have been taking prudent steps this year to ensure that their businesses go forward positively.

"We believe these changes are necessary to protect and bring forward our newspapers into the future. No one can stand still in today’s competitive and changing media environment.

"The Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life are market leaders in Northern Ireland and we want to protect them.

"Our journalists still represent one of the largest news gathering operations in Northern Ireland and we will continue to even after these changes.

"We still regard ourselves as highly successful in terms of both our circulation performance and our advertising, but there have been increasing pressures, particularly on evening papers in recent years."

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