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Publisher tells journalists strike plan will put titles at risk

nujlogoA regional publisher has broken its silence on a pay dispute that has sparked a planned three-day strike by hundreds of journalists – claiming the action could put some of its titles’ futures at risk.

National World has accused the National Union of Journalists of showing no “flexibility” in negotations as more than 300 members at the group prepare to walk out on Monday 18 September, Friday 22 September 22 and Monday 25 September.

The planned action, which will also include a work to rule from Tuesday 19 September, comes after union members repeatedly rejected a proposed 4.5pc pay increase at National World.

But, in an email sent to all staff yesterday, the company has claimed a 4.5pc increase was “genuinely our best offer” and claimed the strike could impact the “viability of some of our titles moving forward”.

The union is urging National World to offer an improved pay package, uplifts to minimum rates and efforts to improve pay disparities after talks between the two parties hosted by conciliation service ACAS collapsed earlier this summer.

In its email, National World said it wanted to bring staff “up to date with the facts and reassure you that the company will continue to operate as normal throughout the weeks ahead”.

The group said: “The NUJ paid officials present this action as group wide, national action. This is misleading. The NUJ has no national recognition and many departments have no union agreements whatsoever with the NUJ.

“Where recognition agreements do exist we deal with those staff representatives, our own employees at local level, on matters of salary and conditions.

“This year we have undertaken lengthy negotiations with the NUJ at a regional level, in line with our local recognition arrangements (where these are in place), and have worked hard to try and reach an agreed pay award.

“A number of our chapels recognised that our pay offer of 4.5pc was genuinely our best offer in terms of improving salaries within the realms of affordability for the business, and chapels across Sussex, along with our Derbyshire and Morton (Northern Ireland) chapels accepted this pay offer.”

It added: “Despite the difficulties we have had in reaching agreement with the NUJ, the vast majority of staff have shown huge commitment and involvement in the transition to a sustainable modernised content business.

“It is therefore disappointing that the NUJ has taken the decision to notify us of impending industrial action commencing on 18th September.

“Such action only risks harming the business and accelerating the decline of titles which we have continued to protect despite falling revenues and profitability.

“Any action which does so not only risks the future of a number of titles but also the future employment of staff working on such titles.

“We understand that our editorial staff – both members and non-members – now face the difficult decision about what action, if any, you now wish to support and you are urged to consider the impact industrial action may have on the business and viability of some of our titles moving forward.

“Over the next weeks we will renew our effort to avoid disruption and maintain full service to our expanding audience and our customers. We will also update all staff on the steps we are taking internally to manage industrial action and what it will mean for those staff taking part and not taking part.”

In a statement issued on Friday, the NUJ National World group chapel said: “This ballot result is an historic moment for our members at National World, many of whom have been with the company since the days of Johnston Press and later JPIMedia.

“It marks the first time that a company-wide ballot over pay has been undertaken within this business under any of those owners, with our members having reluctantly accepted real-terms pay cuts or pay freezes from their current employer and previous owners for too many years.

“The result in favour of strike action sends a very clear message to the company.

“Our members simply cannot afford to allow the many issues with pay at National World to persist – and they know that the company’s future sustainability relies on its ability to recruit and retain properly trained journalists.

“Paying some journalists 2019 rates, imposing real-terms pay cuts on many more and allowing existing pay disparities to worsen is not the way to protect the valued newspapers and websites that this company owns.”

In an email to members at National World yesterday, the union added: “While working to rule will undoubtedly cause disruption to the company’s usual operations, the National World group chapel recognises that the most effective way to demonstrate the anger that our members feel is for everyone to walk out.

“Hundreds of journalists downing tools will have a significant impact on the business and will also help to make the communities that we serve aware of how National World treats its staff.

“Regular readers who have seen campaigning around the cost of living crisis in our papers and on our websites may be surprised to see how little the company has done to help its own journalists to cope with the financial pressures of the past 12 months.

“It also allows us to start a conversation through the union with readers, local leaders and advertisers about the other ways in which the company is failing to invest in quality local journalism, including the job cuts that have pushed many teams to the brink.

“It will be so much harder for the company to pretend it’s business as usual when its journalists are standing together on picket lines and at rallies around the country.

“It’s an opportunity for other NUJ members, trade unions and supporters to show their solidarity too as they will be invited to join us in calling on the company to invest in proper pay for its journalists.”

HTFP has also approached both National World for further comment.