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Johnston Press staff call company to account on pay & understaffing

10 August 2017

Understaffing is affecting the quality of Johnston Press’s newspapers and websites and putting undue pressure on staff, its NUJ chapels have told the company.

When interim half-year figures were published, chief executive Ashley Highfield said the business had responded to "challenging" trading conditions and posted revenue growth, excluding classifieds, as a result of its "substantial efforts and clear strategic focus".

But behind the scenes there is widespread discontent among the company’s journalists whose pay has been frozen as staff cuts have increased workloads, leaving many unable to take leave or time owed.

Analysis of the company’s 2016 results showed the amount of revenue generated per employee, based on total headcount, had risen from £85,246 in 2015 to £89,294 in 2016.

NUJ chapels in Edinburgh, Sunderland, Preston, Blackpool, Leeds and Mansfield are among those to have written to the company so far, calling for pay talks and an urgent review of staffing levels. They include members working for The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News, Sunderland Echo, The Shields Gazette, Hartlepool Mail, Lancashire Post, Blackpool Gazette, The Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Evening Post and the Mansfield and Ashfield Chad.

One NUJ member said:

"I am very concerned about staffing levels. After a reporter left our office it took months to get a replacement. We were already understaffed and it felt like my workload had almost doubled. There has been a lot of overtime worked by us all, with no chance of getting it back. Lunch breaks are never taken and every day is a rush. I feel work quality is not as good as it could be due to time pressures."

Another NUJ member said:

"We’re going to have some stress-related absences soon if people aren’t given a bit of breathing space."

A Johnston Press NUJ group chapel spokesperson said:

"As the summer holidays approached, it became clearer than ever that many teams were not sufficiently staffed to cope with people taking annual leave, maternity/paternity leave or time owed in lieu without placing undue pressure upon those who remain in work. This is being exacerbated by the company’s unnecessarily slow recruitment process when journalists leave or take maternity/paternity leave. The failure to make timely decisions in these situations adds further stress to those left picking up the additional work. We urge the company to give serious consideration to the points raised by the chapels in each of their letters and would welcome the opportunity to discuss our members’ concerns further."

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"Johnston Press NUJ chapels are keen to work together to send a strong message to management about these issues. Morale has been hit hard and there is a real feeling that the company is not recognising the commitment from staff in very difficult circumstances.
"Recent financial results have been publicly hailed as positive by the company, so members want to see that view made concrete by ending the pay freeze and by making sure there are adequate numbers of staff for a safe working environment."

Interim results for the 26-week period ending 1 July 2017 are available online the company website.

Tags: , johnston press, johnston press group chapel, newspapers, pay and conditions