Journalists at Newsquest titles in South London have begun a 12-day strike this morning in protest at plans to axe up to 14 jobs.
The NUJ members started their walkout today despite last-minute talks at the arbitration service ACAS last night aimed at averting the dispute.
Union members voted unanimously to take strike action over the proposed cost-cutting drive which will see many senior roles cut and 16 weeklies placed under a single group managing editor.
Talks were held at ACAS yesterday but although the company says progress was made the stoppage still went ahead today.
Gary Kendall, managing director for Newsquest South London, said: “While we did not reach a complete resolution and the strike will go ahead, we did make progress in a number of areas and are continuing to hold discussions with the NUJ.
“Indeed, we did reach agreement on a number of points highlighted in the NUJ press release and other elements of the dispute.”
The union has received support from local politicians, including Green Party Members of the London Assembly, who said that the planned restructure would be “hugely damaging”.
Titles affected by the walkout, due to last until 1 July, include the eight-edition South London Guardian series, the Surrey Comet, Elmbridge Comet and the Richmond & Twickenham Times – although negotiations between management and the union are still continuing.
A picket line is being set up for journalists at Quadrant House in Sutton, where the South London Guardian titles are based, while other NUJ members will be handing out leaflets to highlight their concerns.
NUJ members working at the News Shopper series in South East London are also affected by the restructure and will join the strike for two days, next Monday and Tuesday.
A letter from AMs Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson to Newsquest expressed “deep concern” about the restructure, which sees journalists faced with redundancy or a pay cut and 16 weeklies placed under a single group managing editor Andrew Parkes.
Their letter said: “These unnecessary cost-cutting measures would be hugely damaging to the entire fabric of the local news industry in South London.
“Local newspapers have a key role to play in informing people about the challenges their communities are facing and what actions they can take to make things better.”
Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell has also lent his support to the strikers, saying that the cuts will undermine reporters’ ability to provide high quality journalism to the Croydon area.
The union is calling for a 3pc pay rise for journalists, along with no compulsory redundancies and a workable structure that “suits the needs of the company and members of editorial”.
It also wants a halt to plans to move journalists further away from the communities they serve and secure fair pay for journalists, including the London Living Wage for all reporters.
Under Newsquest’s plans, up to 14 roles are at risk and, although three new posts are being created and 11 vacancies are available, many senior roles are set to disappear and staff who stay on are likely to face the prospect of a pay cut.
Journalists at the News Shopper series are also set to work remotely as part of the proposals.
The South London Guardian chapel said: “Our papers hold those in power to account, provide a voice to local residents and fight the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“If local newspapers are not properly staffed, important stories will be go unreported and residents will be left in the dark.
“We are calling for Newsquest to invest in the communities it purports to serve.”
NUJ national organiser Laura Davison added: “Our chapels are determined to make the strongest possible case to management that they have had enough of the cuts, low pay and oppose the restructuring.
“They will be reaching out to their readers, asking them to support their local newspaper and quality journalism, speaking to local and national politicians and will be calling on fellow trade unionists to show their solidarity.”