NUJ members working for Newsquest take action after hint of another pay freeze

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Journalists working for Newsquest in York and Bradford are today taking strike action over pay.

NUJ members in York have already taken industrial action on two days this month and take their third day of action together with colleagues at the sister Newsquest chapel in Bradford.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Our members at Newsquest face remorseless and wrong-headed attacks on living standards and quality journalism. Local newspapers are being badly hit, as owners of media companies opportunistically seized the chance to cull staff, freeze pay, cut costs and close newspapers, creating pay misery for staff and leaving a frightening democratic deficit in our local communities.

“Newsquest cannot impose such cuts without destroying livelihoods and local newspapers, the NUJ stands firmly in support of all members taking action.”

A trainee on a Newquest weekly starts on just £7.52 an hour and that’s without taking into account any of the unpaid extra hours put in. Inflation has risen nearly 12 per cent in the four years since Newsquest first imposed a pay freeze on staff. This year key prices have also soared by up to 9 per cent with energy and fuel prices at record levels.

Since 2009, staff at York and Bradford have had a single 2 per cent rise in 2011.

Newsquest managers in Bradford have chosen to freeze journalists’ pay for three of the last four years and already they are making ominous noises about continuing to deny our members a pay increase in 2013. In York, an extensive document from the NUJ chapel detailing possible options to deal with the issue of pay was rejected out of hand by the company on the basis it had no money to ‘increase costs’.

In Bradford the Group editor, Perry Austin Clarke, wrote to chapel officers saying he was willing to talk about pay for next year but would not engage with the union about 2012 pay rates.

NUJ organiser Chris Morley said: “It is very disappointing that Newsquest has resorted to trying to threaten its journalists who are standing up for themselves in an effort to get a wage to sustain them and their families after suffering years of cuts through the ravages of inflation.

“Our members are determined to win a better deal from a company that is prepared to lavish huge salaries, cash bonuses and share options to directors who have failed on every count to make a successful contribution to the company’s fortunes – unlike our members who produce the journalism that helps keep their newspapers in the eye of their communities.

“Newsquest can still, even at this late stage, recognise the anger being built up among staff and enter into genuine negotiations that can plot a realistic way out of this unsustainable situation.”

Mark Stead and Tony Kelly, joint NUJ FoCs of the York Chapel, welcomed the action of their Bradford colleagues and in a statement declared: “Like ourselves, Bradford have been harshly and unfairly treated by the management at Newsquest.

“We have no qualms whatsoever with our colleagues at the Northern Echo being given a two per cent pay rise. They deserve that – and more. But so do we at York and Bradford.

“Our members have worked equally as hard in the most exacting of circumstances, where editorial staffing levels have been cut regularly over the past four years and with editorial departments vastly under-funded.

“Newsquest Yorkshire and North-East turned in a profit of £1.87 million in 2011. It is making money. But that profit is for its American share-holders and its British management. Loyal, diligent, over-worked and under-valued staff in both York and Bradford are told ‘there’s no cash’.

“In a concerted campaign to be constructive, the chapel at York has proposed several measures by which we can improve our deteriorating standard of living. All have been flatly rejected by management. Yet we have all been told that we are ‘working flat out’, that we are all doing very well. That message is not about patronage, it’s about being patronised in the most shabby and contemptible way.

“We are urging Newsquest to address the hardship our members are increasingly facing. We are urging Newsquest to reward our members with a proper wage. We are urging Newsquest to be fair.”

Bob Smith, Bradford FoC said: “Chapel members at Bradford are sick of being strung along by management with tales of the company’s poverty while they are experiencing real poverty at home.

“A succession of pay freezes over the last four years has left our journalists almost 14 per cent worse off. Newsquest has also cut pension contributions by up to nine per cent by closing its final-salary scheme, saving it £600,000.

“Members face real, everyday problems feeding their families and heating their homes. Starting pay for a graduate trainee on our weeklies is less than £14,700, and managers waited until August to break the news that, once again, our pay would be frozen for 2012.

“Yet Newsquest managers enjoyed performance-related bonuses of £282,000 last year and the division of Newsquest our members work for made a profit of £1.87m.

“Managers are already making ominous noises about the pay freeze being extended into 2013. Enough is enough. Our members decided they had to make a stand to try to force the company to face up to its obligations to staff.

“If nothing else, our mandatory chapel meeting will enable members to take a decent lunch break for a change.”

John McDonnell MP said: “I send my solidarity greetings to all of our members taking action today. Newsquest management needs to recognise the strength of feeling that is motivating NUJ members to take industrial action. It’s not too much to ask of Newsquest that they engage in sensible negotiations. For too long  this company has milked the industry of profits whilst holding down the wages of its employees. Solidarity to you all and rest assured you have the support of the NUJ Parliamentary Group.”


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