Second Blackpool strike looms as pay talks founder

Around 25 staff took part in the first day-long strike last Thursday

Journalists at the Blackpool Gazette look set for a second 24-hour strike after no sign of a breakthrough with owner Johnston Press.

Around 25 staff took part in a first day-long strike on Thursday, last week, as they sought an increase on management’s basic pay offer of three per cent.

A source at the paper said: “Unless you get PA coming out in sympathy you are not going to stop a paper – but the strike did have an effect in terms of content, there was much more use of agency copy than you would normally see.”

About a dozen editorial staff are said to have been at work during the stoppage which also affected the Blackpool Gazette, Fleetwood Weekly News and Lytham St Annes Express.

Staff are seeking an increase on the basic pay rise figure of three per cent.

Changes to banding mean that many lower-paid staff will receive larger pay rises under the deal, which works out at 4.4 per cent on average according to management.

But 14 staff will receive only the basic three per cent. These are all understood to be long-serving journalists, earning around £20,000, who only received the minimum pay rise in last year’s pay deal.

The NUJ wants further incremental pay rises to reward two and five years’ experience at the paper, which has an ABC daily circulation of 35,968.

NUJ north of England organiser Miles Barter said: “The chapel feels particularly strongly that these people who have missed out for the past two years deserve more than the minimum pay rise.

“They feel that people with their level of education, qualifications and commitment should be better paid.”

Under the deal currently on the table minimum rates would go up to: £17,600 for senior journalists; £19,000 for specialists; £20,200 for top-table subs and chief reporters; and £26,400 for chief subs, news editors and picture editors.

Before last week’s action, staff held a union meeting where they voted by 25 to five in favour with going ahead. The initial strike ballot had been agreed by a margin of 17 to 13.

Management at the Gazette issued the following statement: “On Friday 11 June some members of the NUJ employed by Blackpool Gazette & Herald took strike action. A number of journalists reported for duty and The Gazette published as normal.

“The union has given notice of its intention to take further strike action in support of its pay claim on Tuesday 22 June. As before, steps have been taken to ensure that the quality and frequency of our publications does not suffer.

“We have made our best and final offer and industrial action will not result in any improvements. We have assured the NUJ that we are open to discuss its 2005 proposals once our 2004 offer has been accepted and the threat of industrial action removed.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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