The National Union of Journalists has called for urgent talks with regional publisher Johnston Press after it announced an extension to its pay freeze.
HTFP reported yesterday that the publisher would continue its pay freeze for another six months so all salary reviews would be on hold until July at the earliest.
It came after an announcement in July last year that it was deferring pay reviews until this January and it expected to be able to make a 2pc increase if it hit its profitability targets.
The NUJ has now hit out at Johnston Press and said it will be asking chief executive Ashley Highfield to slow down his programme of changes.
NUJ deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick said: “This has gone down like a lead balloon with members who have been through a lot in the past year, taking on board restructuring, re-launches and a large number of job cuts.
“I will be asking Ashley Highfield to slow down his plans. The NUJ does not want to be negative, but we would like to see proof that his proposals – and his dash to digital – are achieving the goals he has set.
“Our members will see the continued pay freeze as poor reward for the huge effort that they have made during the company’s constant programme of changes.
“It is vital that he regains the confidence of his staff if he wants to keep them on board to face the challenges ahead. Taking away their pay rise to service the company’s debt will not do that. This is a real assault on journalists’ living standards.
“In addition, the stress survey carried out among staff shows that journalists’ workloads continue to increase and the job cuts, which are being carried out in an unstructured way, are leaving the company poorly placed to meet the competition threatened by the launch of Local World.”
The NUJ said that senior reporters working for JP typically earn less than £22,000, while new trainees can earn less than £16,000.
Staff working for the publisher were told on Friday that salary reviews were being deferred another six months because of the “underlying weakness of the economy”.
Johnston Press had not responded to requests for a comment at the time of publication.
A statement issued by the company yesterday said: “Johnston Press have announced that due to the underlying weakness of the economy continuing to create challenging conditions and trading being very difficult in the second half of the year, all 2013 salary reviews are being deferred for a further six months.
“All publishing units and departments have done incredibly well in terms of overall performance taking steps to mitigate the potential shortfalls and whilst the economy remains unpredictable, continued cost control will be vital in 2013.
“The pay deferral applies to all Johnston Press Companies and Group Employees in the UK, and the Isle of Man.
“Provided business performance is robust for the first six months of 2013, there will be pay reviews starting in July 2013. The company remains confident that the ambitious initiatives introduced in 2012 will bear fruit in 2013.”