A nationwide petition demanding the end of four years of pay freezes for all Newsquest staff has been launched by the National Union of Journalists.
All NUJ chapels at Newsquest papers, which include the Northern Echo, the Press in York, the Worcester News and The Argus in Brighton, have been asked to back the petition, which union leaders believe will attract strong support over the coming weeks.
It demands Newsquest bosses bring the salary freeze to an end, claiming employees are facing financial hardship and the quality of their work was not being recognised.
The NUJ’s Northern and Midlands organiser, Chris Morley, said the online petition was a chance for people to “send a message” to bosses at the publisher.
“We think there is huge anger about the cavalier way staff throughout Newsquest have been treated, not just the employees themselves – but also family and friends,” he said.
“This petition is an opportunity for all these people to publicly air their disenchantment and send an important message to the handsomely paid Newsquest directors that their staff can’t tighten their belts indefinitely to give massive rewards to US shareholders.
“We want to make sure directors know they are not going to get away with paying poverty pay without a challenge all the way – and continuing exposure of the greed in the boardroom.”
Among the signatories so far is Tim Aves, of Burnham-on-Crouch, who said: “It is hypocritical in the extreme for a company’s publications to take other employers to task for their bad behaviour, while treating their own employees so atrociously.”
Gordon Stevenson of Glasgow added simply: “Enough is enough Newsquest.”
The petition states that Newquest made a £58million operating profit last year, while president of parent company Gannett, Gracia Martore, has promised American shareholders a $1.3billion reward.
It goes on to highlight the fact that despite this, Newsquest staff in the UK are suffering yet another pay freeze – the fourth in five years.
“At the same time [they are] being told to accept unpaid leave, hundreds of job cuts and office closures,” it adds.
The petition also claims that the NUJ are aware of cases when news editors have shelled out of their own pockets to pay for petrol for cash-strapped reporters to get to stories.
It continues: “We demand that Newsquest immediately breaks its salary freeze and enters into full negotiations with staff representatives to start to tackle financial hardship among its employees.”
Workers at The Press in York have held a number of industrial actions in the fight to get the pay freeze ended.
The latest action, just before Christmas, followed a series of mandatory chapel meetings over recent weeks in protest.
Two of the meetings led to walkouts by staff after they were told they would be docked a full day’s pay for attending.
Newsquest had not responded to requests for a comment at the time of publication.