NUJ urges companies to halt Irish newspaper lay offs
24 March 2020
The union has called on Iconic Newspapers Ltd to withdraw the threat of lays off across the country following the government’s announcement today of a temporary wage subsidy scheme to companies affected by the coronavirus.
Staff have been advised that a number of editors and reporters are to be laid off from the start of April for a six week period, with editorial roles in different titles being combined.
Iconic Ltd, headed by UK businessman Malcolm Denmark, owns over 20 regional newspapers, in Ireland including some of the best known newspapers in the country. Denmark was founder of the London based Media Force company.
Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, described the move as "a devastating bolt from a blue" the announcements made by the company in a series of conference calls yesterday.
On 16 March Denmark wrote to staff assuring them that the company had sufficient funds to get Iconic companies through the crisis "without any cash issue".
Séamus Dooley added:
"Given that the government announcement had been signalled in advance, and against the backdrop of Malcolm Denmark’s circular, this move came as a devastating bolt from the blue. There has been no prior consultation and a number of loyal, experienced editorial executives and long serving reporters have been told they are to be laid off. The criteria for selecting who is laid off has not been explained.
"The NUJ is consulting with our members and we will be asking the company to reconsider its actions. The amalgamation of editorial posts across titles and the diminution in editorial resources at a time when local communities need local newspapers could have damaging long term consequences for the titles. We would have strong concerns for the health, safety and welfare of small teams left to produce titles in such adverse circumstances.
"We would urge Malcolm Denmark to avail of the payments available from the Irish government. He had previously confirmed to staff that the company has adequate cash reserves. Lay offs should be a last resort. We hope that Malcolm Denmark will agree to negotiate with the NUJ, respect the industrial relations norms in Ireland and heed the call by the minister for finance for employers to keep workers in employment".
In his letter Denmark said: "In the mid term, whilst the uncertainty is tough, and circumstances seem to change hourly we have a plan, and other than having to deal with stress and turmoil we will be fine. Fortunately we are in stronger position than most to get through these horrible challenges."
"We would also call on the Celtic Media Group to review its decision to lay off staff, taken last week. Again, this decision was taken before today’s announcement.
"We do not underestimate the difficulties confronting the regional press sector in Ireland and the Irish government needs to consider specific supports for the sector. Regional media provide an important public service and this should not be undermined. Any supports would have to be on the maintenance of employment and a clear commitment to maintaining titles."