25 October 2014

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Newsquest in legal challenge to one-day strike plan

Regional publisher Newsquest has warned journalists they may be in breach of contract if they take part in a one-day strike planned for tomorrow.

Members of the National Union of Journalists voted to take action in protest at plans to transfer sub-editing roles from the company’s Darlington, York and Bradford centres to a production hub in Newport, South Wales

The NUJ claims 10 jobs are at risk in Bradford, five in York and 10 in Darlington, although not all of these are full-time subbing roles.

However the company claims the strike ballot, which saw chapels voting in favour of action by 75pc or more, were invalid on the grounds that the union failed to provide the company with the correct information.

The warning came in a letter sent by managers to all editorial staff at the three centres on Friday afternoon which has been seen by HTFP.

It read:  “We note with regret that the NUJ have balloted their members for industrial action in relation to the current restructure proposal and have decided to take strike action on Tuesday 18 February.  We believe that the action is unnecessary and counter-productive.

“We must make you aware that the company has grave concerns as to the validity of this ballot paper.

“On review of the balloting process, the company believes the ballot is invalid due to the fact that the union has failed to provide the company with the correct notification, in that this restructure is a TUPE transfer and employees have a choice as to whether they transfer to Newport, where there are enough roles for those wishing to continue their employment with the company.

“However should the employees choose not to transfer they may opt for a payment with a settlement agreement.

“No employee will be made compulsorily redundant by Newsquest (Yorkshire and North East) Ltd as stated in the ballot paper.

It goes on:  “Therefore, for the avoidance of doubt, in the event that you decide to take part in the industrial action you may not receive the statutory immunity and may be in breach of your contract of employment with us.

“The company will make a deduction from the salaries of those taking part in any industrial action.”

The union, which was also made aware of the letters on Friday, accused the company of seeking to intimidate staff.

Northern and Midlands organiser Chris Morley told HTFP: “We do not believe what the company is saying has merit.   We see it as an attempt to intimidate the employees ahead of the action and we also see it as an indication that the company is seriously rattled.”

21 Comments

  1. Anon

    Easy for you to say that Chris. Not so easy for those at risk under these proposals. What if they are right? Why didn’t the NUJ foresee this and ensure that the ballot was watertight?

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  2. fdesales

    Legal challenge? If you want to make a legal challenge, you get an injunction. Not as if Newsquest don’t have previous in that regard – look what happened in Scotland.

    As I understand it, the strike is also about the damage to the quality of these papers if subbing moves to Newport and the workloads the staff left behind will face, as well as any other matters stemming from the subbing hub proposals. Even if Newsquest could win the redundancy argument, which is debatable, that’s only part of it. And, Anon, this was foreseen by the NUJ and the local reps.

    If Newsquest were willing to get round the table and talk seriously about this rotten plan, rather than doing box-ticking ‘consultations’ and threatening their staff, they might get somewhere. It’s pathetic.

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  3. Chris Morley

    Anon, the union quite often gets this response from employers – especially Newsquest – when they see industrial action is likely to be strong and effective. Newsquest has chosen to write memos to its staff as a cheap way of trying to wind them up – a disgrace that any employer should seek to treat their staff like that. The NUJ is confident the ballot is sound and the company’s threats do not hold water.

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  4. Anon, EA

    Yet another NUJ related story that makes me wonder why I bother to pay my fees….frustrated to say the least.

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  5. Ian Halstead, West Midlands

    But Anon, who says it isn’t watertight?
    As Chris says, you’d expect this kind-of bluster after a strike vote.
    I remember, years back, when (as deputy FOC at the B’ham Post & Mail) the FoC and I broke the news to the CEO – Chris Oakley – that the NUJ had just voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.
    “You can’t do that to my paper. I’ll sack you … I’ll sack you all,” was his immediate riposte.
    Amazing how moving from the editorial floor to the boardroom changed his mindset.
    Of course, he calmed down, went home, talked to his HR lawyers, and realised he couldn’t sack anyone, but his bully-boy approach clearly lives on at Newsquest.

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  6. fdesales

    Anon, before getting frustrated about your subscriptions, why don’t we see what tomorrow and the days after bring?

    Newsquest can end this strike any time they want to through looking to reach a resolution. And if they wanted to scupper it, why haven’t their lawyers stepped in already? They could be saving their local managers a lot of time and panic working out how they cover for not having 70-80 journalists on duty tomorrow.

    As Ian said, this is bullying, pure and simple. The fact the strike is going ahead shows these journalists aren’t prepared to be bullied.

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  7. Confused

    Yes, ‘breach of contract’ ‘dock day’s salary’ and then the ‘getting pizzas and donuts in for those who choose to work’ are tick boxes 8-10 in the newspaper MD’s to do list when confronted by a strike.

    The curious thing is, in these days when all decisions are taken independently and at a purely local level, the same tick box list is in the drawer of every senior manager of all the big (and getting smaller) companies.

    I have known a few who have experienced similar little local difficulties on the industrial relations front and have gone on to discover tick box 15 – pick up P45 or become the dreaded ‘head of special projects’!

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  8. Disgruntled

    It is worth noting that, aside from the controversy over the Tupe transfer (do staff really have a choice over being made redundant?), the role of chief features writer at The Northern Echo is not transferring, therefore there is at least one undeniable compulsory redundancy. Newsquest seem to have overlooked this.

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  9. submerged

    It’s standard fare to threaten strikers with breach of contract. Are the strikers right in making a stand against this? Yes. Will it make any difference to the outcome? No.

    The regional press is a dreadful industry to work in now and it is only just being held together at the straining seams by an overworked and exhausted staff stretched to breaking point.

    All the while the response from the desperate owners has been to crank up that pressure a little bit more in the quest for yet more savings to keep heads above water as cold, hard economic reality takes its toll.

    It’s sad to witness death by a thousand cuts and I’m afraid there really doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

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  10. Hal

    Newsquest makes it all sound so easy. Just sell your house, uproot your children from their schools, get your partner to relocate and find another job and move to Wales to what might prove to be a short-term fix the way things are going. It’s an easy cop out to say you’re offering alternative roles in Wales and therefore no redundancies are compulsory. People have lives and commitments and they can’t just flit about the country at will.

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  11. KellyC

    Appalling bullying tactics by Newsquest. If I were an employee there, this would just make me more determined to fight.

    And Anon, don’t be so naive. These kind of tactics have been employed by employers for generations to try to scare their employees into submission.

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  12. Richard Jones

    Why not agree to move to Newport and then, if the stress of moving makes you ill, go on paid sick leave for as long as is legally and contractually allowable to sort your head out or find new work….?

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  13. archantlifer

    More underhand bullying from Newsquest.. they don’t like the opposition so they are threatening to take their ball home. Pathetic… almost laughable, but this isn’t a game, it’s serious and people’s livelihoods are at stake.
    All the more reason for the strikers to stay strong and united.

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  14. lensman

    Not generally a fan of strikes, but I would do the one day, reballot and go out for longer. Newsquest are very fond of the money saving ‘furlough’ tactic, let’s see how they cope when every one takes a week off at the same time.

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  15. Capt Starlight

    Might be risky. Best to ensure strike is definitely legal and if necessary re-ballot on likely strike action. Awful to uproot to Wales and probably the jobs would wither there eventually. Hate seeing people lose a day or more’s pay and also get snared by legal clause a judge might uphold in favour of awful Newsquest.

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  16. Sickened

    Newsquest gets such a bad press, not only on HTFP, but in other media and from the public at large, that such a large organisation should be forbidden by Act of Parliament from owning so many newspapers in this country.
    It cannot be good for democracy and it is deplorable for journalism as a profession.
    The organisation needs to be broken up to enable smaller publishers to flourish once again in the regional press.
    When evenings and weeklies were family businesses their owners at least took an interest in the communities they served.
    With the likes of Newsquest, shareholders live far away and don’t even known the circulation areas of their titles.
    As others say, if you move to Newport you don’t know what the future might hold. Staff should demand a legally binding guarantee as a condition of moving in view of Newsquest’s appalling record on job security.

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  17. Muker Boy

    Ask Newsquest how much Newport are paying Darlington, York and Bradford for the sale of the subbing business.
    TUPE regulations are very strict for for employers trying to manipulate staff who want to defend their livelihoods under long-established industrial relations practices.
    Anyone with personal doubts can get emergency reassurance from CAB.

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  18. Sub No More

    Ah, Newsquest … staying as classy as ever, I see.

    I hope NUJ members stay strong.

    I’m looking forward to a lengthy, in-depth feature on interpretive dance in the Northern Echo on Wednesday. It’ll be a fine follow-up to the lengthy, in-depth feature on Morris dancing that helped fill the paper during the last strike.

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  19. Disheartened, North East

    If any other company had made this ridiculous offer to its employees it would have been a lead story in these papers. If managers were told ‘move to Wales or leave’ they would be incredulous. People want to be treated fairly and with respect, not cast aside without thought to the years of loyalty and hard work they have given. You all have come up through the ranks… Never forget your roots!

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  20. Dave Bowie

    Yes, a transfer from the north-east to south Wales is so simple. On what planet?

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  21. wtf, hell

    Quote: ” employees have a choice as to whether they transfer to Newport, where there are enough roles for those wishing to continue their employment with the company.”

    Also untrue.
    Any take up by Northern staff would cause existing staff in Newport to be put up for redundancy as well. Not one new subbing role exists in Newport to take up the strain of the North workload.

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