Union members at five Newsquest publishing centres are to be balloted over strike action as the row over the company’s subbing hub plans escalates.
The National Union of Journalists has notified the regional publisher of plans to ballot 150 of its members in response to continuing pay freezes and plans to transfer staff and work away from local communities.
Earlier this week it was confirmed that six sub-editing roles were to be lost from the group’s Southampton production centre after it was decided to transfer production of Brighton daily The Argus from there to Weymouth.
The union is also fighting ongoing plans to transfer production of its North West titles to its production hub in Newport, South Wales, with the possible loss of up to 29 jobs.
The group’s North East titles, including the Northern Echo, Bradford Telegraph & Argus and York Press, have already transferred production to Newport – despite a one-day strike by NUJ members in February – as have the West Midlands titles including the Worcester News.
The latest ballots will take place next week and will cover five Newsquest chapels in Blackburn, Cheshire, Sussex, Southampton and South London/
As well as the North West titles, other titles covered include The Argus in Brighton, Southampton’s Southern Daily Echo and the South London Guardian series where proposals to close a title and shut an office have angered staff.
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “There is a real feeling of enough is enough across Newsquest chapels. Cost cutting is forcing out dedicated and experienced staff with little compensation, to the detriment of readers and local communities.
“In the South there is concern about how the proposals are impacting on part-time workers, largely women, whose working hours don’t appear to fit conveniently into Newsquest’s concept of efficiency.
“For those who stay it means frozen pay, long hours and heavy workloads especially when other vacancies are persistently unfilled.
“There is also concern that in the post restructure world one of the new roles proposed merges both editorial and commercial work, jeopardising journalistic integrity.”
Jane Kennedy, NUJ assistant organiser, added: “We have a great deal of evidence to show that the system is not working and that the pressure being put on remaining staff is unacceptable and unsustainable.
“We call on Henry Faure Walker, chief executive of Newsquest, to halt this process and meet with the NUJ to find a better way forward.
“The current plans are destructive and unnecessary, they waste the skills and talents of our hardworking members and the existing proposals should be reconsidered.”
Commenting on the union’s announcement, Newsquest North West regional managing director Chris Hughes said: “We are disappointed that the NUJ chapels in Blackburn and Cheshire have decided to ballot for industrial action.
“We understand that any changes which may lead to a loss of jobs are regrettable, and where possible we are investigating opportunities for redeployment and alternative roles to mitigate the impact of this, but the system which Newsquest is installing will significantly improve both the products and our ability to produce content in print and online, and are an important part of our strategy to ensure that our local titles and local brands have a sustainable and strong future.”