Journalists working across four Newsquest-owned newspapers in Cumbria have agreed to strike action over “poor pay” in the run-up to Christmas.
Newsquest has made more than 100 people redundant since it took over CN Group in March, according to the National Union of Journalists.
The union claims this has led to “huge workloads” for remaining staff who have not had a pay rise since 2015.
The strike action is set to take place on 20 December and will last one day.
Titles affected are the Carlisle News and Star, the Cumberland News, the Workington Times and Star, and The Whitehaven News.
Union members at Newquest’s Carlisle and Workington offices voted unanimously in favour of strike action, with 80 per cent backing it in Whitehaven.
The turnout for voting was more than 80 per cent in each office.
A spokesperson for the Carlisle chapel accused Newsquest of having a business model “based primarily on cost-cutting”, adding: “Over the past year, the effect of this in our Cumbrian newsrooms has been dramatic.
“It has driven away most of our most experienced local journalists, whose professionalism and local standing has benefited the company – and our community – enormously.
“Collectively, their departure represents a catastrophic loss of experience and knowledge.
“The NUJ in Cumbria believes the journalists, together with colleagues in the commercial departments, are the primary asset of Newsquest’s Cumbrian business.
“It is illogical for the company, while being prepared to invest in technology, to freeze the pay of its journalists indefinitely, as appears to be the case.
“If this continues, our newsrooms will be populated almost exclusively by junior, inexperienced and transient reporters, destined to move on quickly because they cannot afford to remain in a job where low pay rates confirm they are not valued.”
They accused the publisher of “asset-stripping” with “staff treated with contempt and customers treated as collateral damage”.
A Newsquest spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the NUJ has taken this stance especially as Newsquest has in fact invested in a new state of the art system for the editorial department and actually increased the number of reporters than under the previous owners.
“Our primary focus is to ensure that these titles have a sustainable future and despite this strike action they will continue to be published in full.”
Press Gazette understands there have been three new reporters hired for each daily newspaper in the former CN Group portfolio – in Carlisle alone the number of reporters has risen from 7 to 10.
The union claims trainee reporters based in Carlisle start on £16,500, with seniors of £20,500, sub-editors paid £13,500 and the most experienced reporters earning £26,000.
But an insider at the newspaper has said the majority of senior reporters earn between £26,000 and £30,000 – with several paid at this higher level. They said the reporters were among the “highest paid” in the industry.
The source also disputed claims by the union that journalists are expected to work from 7am to 11pm, saying rather they worked until 9pm or 10pm.
The NUJ has said the reporting team in Carlisle is now “less than half what it was three years ago” and that the remaining reporters were expected to take pictures, write headlines and keep up with social media.
It said reporters did this “with barely any production staff to direct and check their work” meaning they “can often do little more than cut and paste press releases”.
“This is hardly the independent, dynamic regional journalism which readers deserve, have long supported and surely need more than ever in a world afflicted by fake news.”
In October, Newsquest banned all union meetings at its Carlisle offices.
Jane Kennedy, NUJ assistant organiser for the Northern and Midlands region, said: “Instead of engaging positively with staff and the union, Newsquest has set out to ignore the union, forcing members to leave the building to hold meetings, refusing to follow the terms of the recognition agreements and cancelling meetings at short notice.
“All this has done is to harden the resolve of members who are a highly-dedicated team of people whose commitment to local journalism is without question. Newsquest’s chief executive Henry Faure Walker promised investment in editorial and to conduct a meaningful relationship with the union. Yet these have proved empty promises.
“There are now fewer reporters since the take-over and Newsquest has shown a blatant disregard for their duty of care to their staff.
“It is the company’s attitude that has led to members having no choice but to act to defend not only their terms and conditions but also the heart and soul of quality local journalism.
“When Newsquest bought the company, NUJ members knew and accepted that there were going to be changes ahead but the massive reduction in staffing and the deterioration in pay, terms and conditions harms the business and shows Newsquest has a total disregard for sustainable, high-quality journalism in the UK.”
A newspaper insider said: “CN Group losing £100k this year and yet we thought it was important they had more reporters. They have more reporters then they have had in years.”