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Johnston Press to talk to NUJ about investment

Adam Christie, Laura Davison and Chris Morley  -  © NUJ

27 June 2014

The NUJ won commitments from Johnston Press (JP) on working together on how to invest the money freed up by a reduction in debt payments, during the company's annual general meeting in London.

A delegation from the union was also given a pledge from the board to investigate why freelances are waiting an unacceptably long time to get paid. The delegation opposed the motion confirming the directors' remuneration – although it was approved by 88.79 per cent of the voting shareholders.

The bonus plan for 2014 allows the company to increase Ashley Highfield's bonus potential for 2014 to 180 per cent of his salary and for David King, chief financial officer, to 150 per cent.

In contrast the pay rise given to most editorial staff in 2013/14 was approximately £500 and mileage allowances were cut. In real terms journalists are more than £3,000 a year worse off than a decade ago.

The meeting heard that the company had shed 1,600 editorial staff in two years and those remaining were working under extremely pressured conditions. The NUJ asked for figures on the number of freelances being used by the company to plug staffing gaps, plus information about the number of editorial staff going in the latest enhanced redundancy programme, announced last year.

The NUJ recognised that progress has been made in reducing debt, although interest payments remain high by comparison with the base rate. Capital refinancing has raised £140 million from the latest equity arrangements and £330.4 million of debt that last year was incurring interest of £40 million at 12 per cent had been converted to a bond where interest at 8.6 per cent was now being paid on £200 million, an annual cost that had been halved to less than £20 million.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"The greatest asset that a company has is the talent and skill of its journalists. There is no benefit to the business if these qualities are lost due to a working environment that is not sustainable. We are pleased that the board listened to the serious concerns of our members over workloads, pay, freelances and future investment and look forward to speedy and genuine engagement with the company on these critical issues.'

Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands organiser, said:

"Our members still face huge challenges as a result of cuts but at least the word 'investment' is now daring to be spoken in public by JP directors. The important thing is to make sure that resources go into the critical areas of the business – particularly editorial - so that recovery can take a steeper trajectory and the most severe pressures on staff can ease the quickest."

Tags: , johnston press, agm, local newspapers, cuts, newspapers, regional newspapers, pay and conditions, editorial quality