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Union to re-ballot journalists after strike halted

A planned strike by journalists across Johnston Press due to take place on Wednesday has been called off after a legal dispute.

National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear claims that Johnston Press sought a High Court injunction against the planned stoppage on the grounds that it does not directly employ the journalists who voted to take part in it.

In an email to NUJ members this morning, which has been seen by HTFP, Mr Dear accepted that the union was required by law to follow dispute procedures with each individual JP subdidiary rather than with their parent company, and said the strike ballot would now be re-run.

Johnston Press has so far made no comment on the union’s claims.

The dispute arose over the planned company-wide introduction of the Atex content management system, which largely does away with the need for sub-editors.

In his email, Mr Dear said NUJ members in each of the subsidiary companies would be re-balloted and predicted more journalists would actually take part next time.

He said: “Johnston Press ran to the High Court on Friday afternoon to prevent you exercising your democratic right to take industrial action.

“They spent enormous time and effort putting together a 600-page submission to prove that, despite the JP stamp on your pay slips, on your P60, the JP company handbook you are issued, the policies on the Johnston Press plc intranet on grievance, disciplinary, health and safety and much more you are required to abide by, despite their claims in their annual report, in company bulletins and more that they employ 1,900 journalists and more than 7,000 employees, that you do not work for Johnston Press.

“Our dispute is not with local managements but with Johnston Press plc. Managers at any subsidiary cannot lift the pay freeze. They cannot reopen the closed pension scheme. They cannot decide to employ more staff or ditch Atex. Yet the law requires us to have a dispute with them.

“It means we are left with no choice. We will re-ballot members. We will ballot each centre, each chapel. Given the delay the company have forced on it the new ballot will now be bigger. More journalists will take part.”

Mr Dear said he was “angry” that the company had chosen to go to court rather than negotiate.

But he added: “Each time an obstacle is place in our way, we will find a way round it. It is not a dispute we can walk away from.”

Comments

Disillusioned (17/05/2010 13:47:10)
What’s the point in wasting your time and money is striking. Yes, it’s right that people should have their say at management decisions but when all is said and done the managers do what they want to anyway. We must now face up to the reality that journalism as we know it is dying.

Nonsense (17/05/2010 13:55:55)
Well isn’t that a great attitude to have. I sincerely hope you’re not a JP employee, Disillusioned, otherwise we’ve no hope of achieveing anything.

Nonsense (17/05/2010 13:58:21)
I know I spelled achieving wrong. See, this is why we need subs!!

Spooky (17/05/2010 14:04:24)
Just one small point. You say Atex ‘does away with the need for subs’ – I know what you mean but it doesn’t really. It does away with the need for that mechanical function – ie pressing the buttons to design a page – but if you want to maintain any kind of quality and integrity in a paper you can’t just replace experienced, creative and intelligent subs with a machine, operated by people who (and I used to be one of them) just don’t have the skills to do the job properly.

Col Kurtz (17/05/2010 14:04:54)
You don’t know what you’re doing!
You don’t know what you’re doing!

Factfinder (17/05/2010 14:10:36)
Nonsense – what exactly would a strike achieve?

Scribbler (17/05/2010 15:25:39)
I don’t think anyone wants to strike – they are just fed up with having to do many hours’ extra work, combined with a pay freeze, while watching incompetent senior management hack staffing levels to the bone. People won’t read papers if there’s no news in them, and while reporters are busy being all things to all men with the Atex system there’s much less time to go out and get stories. That’s all!

Factfinder (17/05/2010 16:14:54)
Who’s working extra hours? I’m working with ATEX and I’m not working any extra hours. And for that matter I don’t know anyone who is. We’re only just coming out of one the worst recessions in decades, and millions of people throughout the country, in many different professions and industries, in the public and private sector, have had their pay frozen. This isn’t unique to JP. Plus you’re very naive and arrogant if you think people who buy local newspapers buy them JUST for the news. Lots of people buy papers for the property, or jobs, or classifieds, or public notices, or obits, or sport, or opinion pieces. Many readers don’t care about the front end. That’s all.

Smell the Coffee (17/05/2010 17:05:37)
Johnstons are naïve to ignore the voices of its editorial staff in terms of journalistic quality and operational efficiency (ie. the appalling implementation project management of Atex). However, Journalists and the NUJ are equally naïve if they ignore the necessity for the Company to be run on a different economic basis than that which it has been run previously. If there are efficiencies to be had whilst maintaining a strong product both in terms of journalistic quality and City expectations – then they must be accepted. Beware of other agendas at play here. The NUJ want to negotiate centrally to increase their might at the expense of local discussions. This outdated mentality serves as no use to us at the front end and, let’s face it, Atex isn’t going away. So work with your local management teams to get the best solutions for you. I genuinely can’t see any benefit in taking industrial action now – the message is communicated, now lets get on with the job.

Jarvis Robbins (17/05/2010 17:07:38)
Why did the NUJ not see this coming? How long have they been planning this? Months? And it fell apart in just over 24 hours.
Now their response is to criticise JP for acting within the law and incredibly to criticise the law itself for not allowing them to carry out their plans.
Surely the fault lies with the union itself for not realising that their entire action was flawed from the start. Rather than talking themselves up they should have started with an apology to the members who they have messed around.
“Each time an obstacle is placed in our way we fall flat on our face.”

Donnacha DeLong (17/05/2010 17:10:28)
“However, Journalists and the NUJ are equally naïve if they ignore the necessity for the Company to be run on a different economic basis than that which it has been run previously.”
Competence would be a good idea for a new economic basis! A perfect example – the Echo titles in Dublin. Bought for approx €5m by Johnston Press in 2005, sold back to the original owner for less than €1m in 2009. Says it all really.

Col Kurtz (17/05/2010 17:12:31)
The NUJ is an organisation that still thinks it is 1976 and has nothing constructive to offer other than platitudes, cliches and cock-ups.
My membership is to be cancelled. I fancy my chances on my own better than I do throwing in my lot with a bunch of well-meaning but ultimately amateurish organisation which is woefully ill-equipped to deal with the challenges facing the media in 2010.

Donnacha DeLong (17/05/2010 17:15:04)
@Jarvis – OK, you explain to me and the rest of the NUJ how you’d deal with a company that has all the control, but has now legally established that it has none of the responsibility?
There was nothing the NUJ could do about this – it had nothing to do with a lack of planning. Members wanted to tackle the people in control, JP management, and therefore balloted against them. The ballot was won, so JP ran to the Courts (now 100% on the side of the bosses and happy to bre
ach Article 12 of The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, despite UK law officially recognising the charter).
This wasn’t like BA or the RMT, where the ballots were thrown out on technicalities. This is a company using the courts to establish a blatant legal fiction that it doesn’t employ journalists.

Factfinder (17/05/2010 17:17:03)
I agree with many of the above sentiments. JP management are often accused of being “imcompetant” but recent events haven’t covered the NUJ in much glory. I’m starting to wonder what I am actually getting in return for my monthly membership fee.

Angry NUJ member (17/05/2010 17:26:34)
My colleagues and I are angry that the NUJ has messed-up so badly over this. I understand that there were two ballot forms (sent to us a week apart) so that this situation could be avoided. Is it true that the NUJ nationally then failed to serve the relevant paperwork for each local centre on the management? I’ve been an NUJ member for years and quite honestly I and my colleagues are considering whether we should remain in the union. It’s just a joke nationally and in the regions we feel very let down. And while I’m on the subject, can the NUJ spend less time pontificating about journalists in other countries like Chile, and give time to those of us who are paying our subs every month and getting a very second rate service? So far the union hasn’t made any impact whatsoever nationally on JP. Atex has been brought in everywhere and it’s only because of dedication in local offices, by local union reps, that we are getting any concessions at all. BTW, has an injunction actually been served on the NUJ? And if not, then why has the strike been cancelled?

Vulnerable (17/05/2010 17:42:13)
Factfinder should find some facts… JP made £43.3m operating profits. Some centres were making 39p in the £ profit during the worst of the recession (Tesco managed 6p or 8p). JP is in a mess because incompetent management went on a reckless spending spree and now we have to face up to life with a one-trick-pony cracking the whip, his one trick being that cutting staff cuts costs. On the upside, last week I would have been in breach of contract for speaking out against JP management but now that I’ve learned they don’t employ me I can say whatever I like, ha, ha, ha!

Smell the Coffee (17/05/2010 17:51:28)
#Donnacha DeLong – I agree, the JP purchase of The Scotsman and the Republic of Ireland titles was nothing short of incompetent. A mistake that has left us in a perilous state. JP got ideas above it station at a time when a lot of Companies got greedy and forgot their fundamental business plan. Like it or lump it, that’s what they are doing now. JP have vowed to maintain local front line reporter levels (and field sales levels), thus maintaining their content gathering strength. They are centralising their back of house activities (like so many other organisations) to save cost. This includes PrePress, Studio, HR etc as well. No-one likes change, but accept it as a current reality and make it work. Industrial action is pointless, serving the twisted needs of a small number of self serving individuals.

Angry NUJ member (18/05/2010 09:13:56)
So was an injunction against the strike actually obtained by JP or not? Maybe the NUJ nationally could post here to let us know. Or has the NUJ just rolled over because of a “threat” of an injunction? What about the second ballot we had? Surely that would have enabled NUJ members to take action? I think rank and file NUJ members who work for JP are owed some explanations.

Johnston Press Worker (Fed-up) (18/05/2010 10:00:15)
While it’s distressing to see the potential strike action fall apart in rather shambolic circumstances, the NUJ – whatever people’s grievances – cannot be accused of not consulting its members on this. I wonder how Johnston Press feels about all this? Ah, that’s right another “no comment” from a company that was cheerily getting the megaphones out when the “revolutionary” Atex system was launched. It would be nice if Johnston Press put as much effort into consulting with its disgruntled employees as it has blocking strike action in such petty and spiteful fashion. Why not find out why we hate Atex? Why not find out what can be done to make things better and find some solutions to resolve issues? Why not be a fair, decent and ethical company that people take pride in working for? I suppose I’m living in cloud cuckoo land…

Not-employed JP employee (18/05/2010 10:17:53)
With regard to the injunction, I believe (and stand to be corrected)that it would have cost the NUJ tens of thousands of pounds to challenge JP’s ridiculous claim that it does not employ journalists (even though it trumpets that it does, and claims to be proud of its staff). So the union had no option but to blink first or risk a massive bill. You only have to look at the petty way the BA court hearings have been handled to see the High Court judges and their legal cronies will find any way possible to prevent people expressing their dissatisfaction with their employers through strike action.

Ex-JP (18/05/2010 10:28:56)
I had a problem when I worked for South Yorkshire Newspapers (SYN) and had to deal with JP’s human resources department in Leeds; now it seems that I wasn’t dealing with the company who actually employed me (SYN) but with the HR department at Yorkshire Post Newspapers Ltd. Can that be legal? Maybe it’s as legal as JP pretending they now don’t employ thousands of people…

In the know (18/05/2010 10:50:18)
Factfinder should check the facts – there are lots of journalists working longer days thanks to Atex.

Factfinder (18/05/2010 11:21:24)
ITK – But there are also lots that aren’t. Those who are working longer hours probably aren’t doing things right. Anyway, journalism isn’t a 9-5 job.

Angry NUJ member (18/05/2010 11:24:27)
So the NUJ has just rolled over on the threat of an injunction has it? Yes, that’s what we thought.
So what about the second ballot which was supposed to cover the eventuality of a challenge to a national strike – by making it possible to do local strikes instead? I understand that due to a bungle the NUJ failed to serve notice of that on the employers. Is that correct?

regionalhack (18/05/2010 12:21:37)
Johnston Press’ claim that it doesn’t employ any journalists is so lame and ludicrous, its gonna take me a little while to stop laughing at this new level of JP stupidity…
In the meantime, JP’s so-called management(the Fry-up team) should realise the people who don’t work for them, but curiously produce Johnston Press newspapers, are seriously p****d off. Not a good way to run a company.
JP shares dropped 7% yesterday to a mere 22p at one point.
So I’m not the only one who is taking a dim view of JP…

regionalhack (18/05/2010 12:25:39)
PS… good on HTFP for reporting on JP, and allowing comment.
JP workers clearly have no other voice, and JP is determined they should not express their feelings through strike action…

Mandy (18/05/2010 12:43:19)
Factfinder – stop talking rubbish. Journalism isn’t a nine till five job, no. But I’ll tell you one thing: under Quark, we didn’t have to come in on Sundays. Under Quark, we didn’t have to stay till 8pm. Under Quark, we didn’t miss deadline. If you don’t, lucky you – be decent and empathise with the people who do. As a result of awful Atex – which is clumsy, confusing and slow (and before you say it isn’t, er, it is in my newspaper office, my friend) – we are being driven into the ground by those who couldn’t give a damn.

Factfinder (18/05/2010 13:56:45)
Mandy – You can’t be THAT busy if you have time to be writing comments on HTFP.

JP Toiler (18/05/2010 14:07:42)
Factfinder: An apologist for a shambolic system. You’re one in a million – keep it up, it’ll definitely earn brownie points with the jumped-up little ad reps-come-middle managers who shamelessly continually to promote the virtues of Atex.

Col Kurtz (18/05/2010 14:57:34)
A
tex rocks.

prionmonkey (18/05/2010 16:31:57)
Factfinder – are you a company stooge?
Atex results in poor quality pages and hundreds of journalists losing their jobs while the JP bosses duck all responsibility for the strategically lousy decisions they are making. Sack them they are to blame.

In the know (19/05/2010 09:57:09)
I think Factfinder is a middle manager and is coming on here just to wind people up. I warn you Factfinder what goes round comes round.

Wolfie (19/05/2010 10:02:34)
I think you’re right ITK and I think I know who it is.
A middle manager at a Yorkshire newspaper used to pose as a reader and reply to comments made by real readers on that newspaper’s website.

Old regional press hand (19/05/2010 10:12:57)
Dear, dear Wolfie – that’s almost as bad as one person posing as two people on a website and replying to comments made by themselves.

Scribbler (19/05/2010 10:42:02)
What I’d like to know is: can Johnston Press legally give shares to people it doesn’t employ? Apparently full-timers will get 1,000 each… how generous. Does that mean everyone that isn’t employed by JP can have them?

ginger whinger (19/05/2010 12:45:03)
Donating a days pay to Johnston Press is seen as a way of protesting then.

Mandy (19/05/2010 13:43:40)
Factfinder: regarding yesterday’s (and this) comment – it was written during my ten minute lunch break. Go back to the boardroom and devise more plans for ruining journalism, you company stooge.

Jenny Lennox (19/05/2010 14:23:44)
Some questions answered, since I was one of the NUJ officials involved in the JP ballot.
– The NUJ was injuncted because it couldn’t afford to fight JP.
– The notices were all served as required, bar the fact that the dispute was with JP, who now claim that they employ no journalists, and very few of the 5000 other workers mentioned on their website.
– Members were annoyed with national JP management not local managements. The group chapel instructed us to ballot across the group and against JP.
– Any chapel that has balloted seperately is still able to take action as long as they are within the required time periods.
– The desire to negotiate with national management is about talking to the people who make the decisions. Clearly that is the only way to resolve things.
I am happy to answer other questions people have – jennyl@nuj.org.uk

Col Kurtz (20/05/2010 16:25:00)
Sorry Jenny but that doesn’t come close to answering any of the grievances expressed on here.
We’re all well aware that JP has pulled a fast one with this and of the inherent ridiculousness of its claiming not to employ journalists. The point is this issue was raised in more than one chapel meeting I attended and must have been raised in dozens more across the group. Even prior to balloting our regional MD had written to all staff saying that a national ballot would not stand legally yet this was dismissed by our local reps who said that the union nationally had looked at this and that management were wrong. In truth it was the NUJ that was completely wrong.
You simply must have seen this coming – why was there no contingency plan/legal counter argument? The fact is that JP approached this dispute as it has done with previous arguments with the NUJ – by being professionals. Meanwhile the NUJ approached this in a very amateur way by failing to address basic potential legal pitfalls in what you as a union were advising us to do.
Your comment about “not being able to afford to fight JP” is hugely concerning to me given the vast amount of cash the union receives in subs every month. If we cannot beat them financially, intellectually or professionally then what is the point in the NUJ existing?
As it stands this joint action comes 12 months too late and is now petering out to nothing. I real waste of everyone’s time and a serious question mark of whether the NUJ can play any sort of a role in 2010.