Union members at a weekly newspaper have voted for strike action after claims the Father of Chapel was ‘targeted’ for compulsory redundancy.
The National Union of Journalists said that Rotherham Advertiser reporter Phil Turner, who has worked there for more than 30 years, was deliberately selected for redundancy because he is the FoC – a claim described by the company as ‘absolute nonsense’.
The union said a ballot for strike action was backed unanimously by members of the Advertiser chapel and a disruptive compulsory chapel meeting is taking place from 11am this morning.
Phil’s redundancy came about after the newspaper, which was owned by the Garnett Dickinson Group, was sold in March to Nick Alexander, a former group chief executive.
The union said that in March, a redundancy selection process was organised for the 14 editorial staff, which resulted in Phil being chosen – a decision the NUJ is appealing against.
Phil, who has been the FoC for most of his time at the newspaper, was presented with a letter giving him notice of dismissal yesterday and his notice will run until August.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “It couldn’t be clearer – to Phil, his colleagues, and to the rest of the NUJ – that a longstanding, effective and well-respected rep who has consistently stuck up for his chapel and their collective principles has been deliberately targeted through this redundancy exercise.
“NUJ members at the Rotherham Advertiser aren’t prepared to sit back and allow Phil to be picked off in this way, which is why they’re taking industrial action – to support and stand by their rep.
“It’s a dispute that will have resonance throughout the local community, where Phil and the work of the paper is well known, and throughout the broader union, so I hope the new owner takes stock and works to resolve this dispute before more damage is wrought.”
Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “The company has made a grave error in selecting Phil for dismissal in such a transparent attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the chapel at the Rotherham Advertiser.
“Even when required savings were found elsewhere, the new management of the company still insisted that a compulsory redundancy had to be made in editorial and that it just happened to be the FoC.”
A statement from the Advertiser chapel added: “Phil Turner, our FoC rep for nearly 30 years, has been sacked after the company was taken over and hit with redundancies.
“This is clearly an attack on the NUJ and trade unionism. We are calling for solidarity in our fight to defend jobs and quality journalism.”
A company spokesperson said: “The accusation that the union rep at the Rotherham Advertiser was deliberately targeted is absolute nonsense. The union is looking for conspiracy where there is none.
“The skills matrix was agreed with the union, who suggested and agreed to amendments in its make-up and whose members were involve throughout the consultation process.
“As HoldtheFrontPage, as a web-only publication will know, digital skills are becoming more important in the sustainability of a media business and the skills matrix reflected that and our desire to move forward, in common with every other newspaper, on a multi-platform level.”
The spokesperson added that the decision was subject to an appeal, so it would be inappropriate to comment directly on an individual case.