Journalists at the Blackpool Gazette and Herald are to begin an indefinite work to rule from next week, as they and hundreds of colleagues across the Johnston Press group of local papers prepare for an industrial action ballot this month.
It’s the NUJ’s first such strike vote for more than 20 years. Journalists are opposing management efforts to force through the introduction, with inadequate staffing and training, of the ATEX content management system which threatens the quality of journalism in local newspapers.
“Members are angry and dismayed at the effect the introduction of ATEX is having on their ability to do their jobs and on their working conditions, as well as the damage it is doing to the quality of the papers,” said NUJ northern and midlands organiser Chris Morley.
Before the decision to call a the ballot, journalists at Johnston titles in Scarborough and Sheffield already planned a vote on strike action on the issue, while their colleagues in Blackpool had already taken industrial action following a strike ballot.
NUJ members at the Leeds-based Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post also voted to ballot on strike action over the introduction of ATEX. Joint father of chapel Peter Lazenby told members that it was clear that further redundancies were imminent in Leeds in a matter of weeks. "Our colleagues in other centres across the north have been called in individually to be told that they can apply for other jobs miles way or be made redundant - simple as that. Even if they apply they could still be sacked.
"They are being told that if they agree not to take industrial action they can have their pitifull redundancy payments topped up by £2,500 - so long as they co-operate with introduction of the system that will then destroy their jobs. The only chance we have of resisting this, of taking on Johnston Press, is by acting together - not being picked off centre by centre"
A consultative ballot of NUJ members employed by Johnston Press had earlier found overwhelming support for industrial action over the changes which have led to a threat to jobs and added to workloads and working hours in a number of centres. Journalists were also determined to resist any future threat of compulsory redundancies and have called on the company to lift its pay freeze.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “No-one should underestimate how angry journalists throughout the Johnston group are at the attacks on their jobs and working conditions and how despite the fact that they have taken on more skills and more work they are being rewarded with a further pay freeze and a new threat to jobs.
“They are also angry at the damage which this short-sighted management is doing to the 18 daily and 300 weekly newspapers which journalists produce for loyal communities across the UK. Staffing cuts are threatening the quality of those papers as our members struggle under unsustainable workloads.
"Ultimately, these changes are about cutting jobs. We will fight any threat of compulsory redundancies by the company. Editorial resources have been cut to the bone to pay for the Johnston debt mountain created a through a foolish policy of buying up other titles at high cost. Now their bankers are telling them to start making repayments. Our members refuse to be the victims of that mismanagement car crash.
“There is only one sensible way forward in the interest of readers, journalists and the Johnston Press Group itself. The company must sit down with the union to negotiate - over pay and fair reward, over the implementation of the ATEX system and over workloads and staffing levels - so that a damaging dispute can be avoided. It is not too late for the the management to start talking."