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FT journalists threaten action to protect Chinese colleagues

12 February 2010

Journalists at the Financial Times are threatening to vote on industrial action if the company won't withdraw plans to force a specialist group of Chinese journalists at the paper to return to China on half their current salaries or else accept redundancy.

Two of the four Chinese journalists are British citizen and they already have terms and conditions inferior to other journalists at the Financial Times.

The NUJ chapel at the Financial Times voted unanimously at a capacity meeting to demand that the threat of redundancies be lifted from their Chinese colleagues, who produce a specialist Chinese language website for the newspaper.

The NUJ chapel said:

"We condemn the outrageous treatment of journalists on FT Chinese. We demand no redundancies on FT Chinese and that the journalists be placed on the same terms and conditions as the rest of FT editorial.
It is unconscionable that the FT is sending FT Chinese journalists into harm's way. We will ballot for industrial action if these demands are not met."

One of the FT Chinese journalists has written to his Financial Times colleagues:

This is the last working day for we FTChinese in the year of Bull. We are going to take a week's holiday and come back to office on Friday, 19th. I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for your warm support in this extraordinary time, especially to those on the NUJ committee. Your efforts are highly appreciated.

By now most of you are aware of our situation. I can't speak for the rest of my Chinese colleagues, but for me, my years at FT have been THE most important and meaningful time throughout my career so far.

I first came to know FT when I was doing master's degree in UK more than ten years ago, and it was a love at the first sight. I've been following this newspaper passionately ever since. It is exactly this passion that drove me to apply for a job at FTChinese when it was first launched in 2003. When I got the offer, my excitement could hardly be described in words.

This passion about FT newspaper and its associated brand has kept me going throughout these years. Of course, nothing is perfect. There have been, naturally, highs and lows over the past several years with FTChinese, sometimes leading to quite critical moments. Yet each time we, as a team, fought hard, made sacrifices, and survived, and emerged even stronger later. Our team is small, just like a drop in the ocean if you look at the size of the entire newsroom, but we are a very united and dedicated team, with high spirit and optimistic outlook. In my work life, I cherish and treasure this team more than anything else.

Facing intense competition over the years, we've been working very hard to make FTChinese excel. Last year we finally broke even, which is absolutely an achievement worth celebration. However, just as we were contemplating what to do to further enhance our position, there came this horrible and stunning decision of redundancy from the management. Needless to say, it was a tremendous shock to the entire team. This reminded us of a very old Chinese saying: "kill the donkey after it has done its job at the mill". The best equivalent in English I can think of is "kick down the ladder".

I studied management in this country, and I know, from numerous cases, that company management are too often not on the same boat with their staff, once the need to balance the book prevails over anything else. FT itself has reported a good number of layoff stories, especially since the start of the financial crisis. But even in such circumstances, there are still good management and bad management. To my great regret, FT's management in this case proves to be the latter. Just one example suffice for this. Over the past two weeks, I have been repeatedly assured that this "business case" has been thought through very carefully, but when I mentioned that the current Chinese law actually forbids Chinese nationals from working for a foreign media as a journalist/editor within China, the management seemed totally ignorant about the existence of such a rule. I just don't understand, how can they claim they've thought it through very carefully when they in fact are not aware of this basic rule? And if they can overlook such an important factor, how can I trust the management for any other stuff that's put forward to me? Above all, why doesn't the management seem to care, that by irresponsibly relocating me back to Beijing, they are actually putting me into a very risky situation?

I have to admit that my passion for FTChinese (and FT as a whole) has been dealt a heavy blow since the redundancy is announced, particularly after several meetings with the management. But I still haven't lost hope, a hope that the management would eventually come to their senses about the damage of such an undoing; a hope that FTChinese will stop being treated unequally as it's been treated over the past 7 years; a hope that we finally be brought under the big FT umbrella and enjoy the same terms and conditions as the rest of our editorial colleagues……

It's new year time. I guess there is nothing wrong to entertain a few hopes at the turn of the new year. However, what has happened so far also reminds me that I should not be carried away by my humble hopes. Given where we are now, this redundancy could be a very long process as well as a bitter experience to many of us. But reading through the warm messages from all of you, I'm not afraid to go down this road anymore. You are all behind us, offering everything you have and supporting us in every possible way you can. I couldn't have known this when I first opened up a FT newspaper in 1999, but this certainly turns out to be, in my view, the most valuable asset of FT – a strong, united, caring, supportive and warm-hearted team.

Thanks again for what you've done for us. My gratitude are beyond words. Wish everyone a very happy Chinese new year – the year of Tiger!

All the best

Tags: , newspapers, relocation, china, ballot, industrial action, equality, financial times