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MPs criticise Trinity Mirror as staff ballot over action

22 October 2009

Journalists in Birmingham and Coventry have voted to ballot for industrial action over plans to cut 40 editorial jobs at Trinity Mirror's midlands operation.

The journalists are being supported by MPs who have tabled an Early Day Motion demanding a meeting with Trinity Mirror before the Birmingham Post is reduced from daily to weekly publishing and thvening Mail is switched to overnight production.

The Coventry NUJ chapel is balloting over plans to cut jobs on weekly titles and introduce a new system for filing copy – which eliminates sub editors. The Birmingham chapel is balloting to prevent compulsory redundancies.

A statement from the Coventry Newspapers NUJ chapel committee said:

"These proposed changes mean an effective 60 per cent cut in staff performing traditional subbing and/or news desk responsibilities for the Coventry Telegraph, with much of their role passed down to a hard working reporting team already trimmed to the bone.
"This chapel feels the changes, entirely driven by short-term economics, are unworkable and would result in unacceptable workloads."

The NUJ chapel committee in Birmingham has produced the following response to Tuesday's announcement:

The chapel believes the company entered the consultation in bad faith, because:

1) The plan leaked to the National Union of Journalists in June was driven through despite a huge amount of evidence suggesting the wisdom of a more cautious approach.

2) The company has not budged from its decision to demand £6million of savings, even though there is much conflicting evidence over the predicted state of the media economy in 2010.

3) The company refused to survey its readers and only carried out any risk analysis of its proposals for overnight publication of the Mail at the insistence of the union.

4) Evidence from newsagents, gathered by one of the managers charged with delivering this project, was far from supportive of the proposed changes to the Mail.

5) Analysis revealed huge risks to the Mail's circulation and the danger of substantial loss of ground to our close rivals, the Express and Star. The E&S is profitable, is already aggressively marketing on our patch and has recently employed Steve Brown, the former managing director of Trinity Mirror (Midlands), who this company sacked at short notice earlier this year.

The NUJ believes the present proposals offer a wide-open goal to the Express and Star to come into Birmingham and sell itself as the only newspaper in the city offering same-day news.

6) The indicative figure of editorial job losses given to the NUJ in August was up to 40 out of the 60-85 proposed overall. The NUJ argued that this was based on false assumptions about staffing levels on The Post, a point which was accepted by management during the course of the consultation. The figure was duly adjusted downwards, but when the job losses were announced, the original demand for 40 redundancies had been reinstated.

7) The working party on the two-stage editorial process concluded that it was possible but recommended a) phased implementation after the changes had been made to the Post & Mail's production schedules; b) a large investment of time and resources in training; c) the need to provide production cover for content which does not fit the template. All of these points are being ignored in favour of the rushed implementation of a highly complex process, all in the name of reducing costs.

8) There was no consultation on the removal of late-shift payments, something which is an agreed part of our terms and conditions of employment. These were originally introduced to compensate staff in Coventry for the increase in anti-social shifts brought about by the switch to overnight publishing and ensured a steady stream of volunteers for these anti-social shifts. They were later implemented in Birmingham as the result of negotiations with the NUJ.

The implication that they are being axed to save three jobs has been viewed as petty and vindictive, designed to create further avoidable conflict in the newsroom and as another indication of the contempt in which this company holds its staff.

9) The handling of the announcement was poor, to say the least. Some staff were informally warned of the timing days in advance, while some were even assured that their jobs would be safe. This is divisive at a time when the company hopes that the entire newsroom will pull together. The majority of editorial staff were given just one hour's notice of an announcement which we know was scheduled last week.

The company will achieve massive savings through the reduction in publication of the Post, distribution and edition cuts on the Mail and the closures of weeklies which were carried out in the summer. With morale at rock bottom, there will be a fair number of volunteers for redundancy from editorial; as last year, the company may well achieve, or get close to, its target without the need for compulsory cuts. This is a shocking indication of the lack of belief in Trinity Mirror among staff.

The NUJ believes the deadline for voluntary redundancy applications should be extended until the exact nature of the new roles and rotas have been revealed. Reporters and desk staff need to be aware of the new workloads being placed on them while the shape of the new rotas will clearly play a major part in decisions whether or not to apply for redundancy.

If the company wishes to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies and an industrial dispute, we request that the voluntary redundancy cap be lifted on all sections of editorial. We are already aware of a number of staff who were considering taking voluntary redundancy but who will not do so if the cap is implemented. In this way, people who wish to go are being forced to stay while some people may be subjected to compulsory redundancy.

The potential dismissal of the full-time video editor, so soon after last year's huge investment in the video department, shows the costly folly of rushing headlong into projects without considering the impact of these changes. A year ago, the idea that new media was going to transform this company's fortunes was driven by senior management. Now, it is being regarded as a lame duck. Such lack of long-term strategic thinking seems endemic to Trinity Mirror.

The inclusion of our weekly trainee colleagues in the redundancy total, just a few weeks after the last round of redundancies, shows a complete lack of concern for the future of young journalists. It also makes a mockery of the agreement reached, under considerable stress, between the company and the union in July, which avoided the need for industrial action. How many more promises will the company break?

If the weekly Post, overnight Mail and two-stage editorial process are to survive and prosper, rather than scrape through with enough words, pictures and adverts pulled together to avoid blank spaces, then the editorial division needs to have as large a reporting, photographic and editing staff as possible. Quality has to be kept as high as possible to retain or even grow circulation in the coming months and years.
We therefore ask the company to issue a pledge that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the latest proposals,

Yours sincerely,
The National Union of Journalists chapel committee, BPM Media (Midlands).

Tags: , trinity mirror, ballot, newspapers, cuts, edm, birmingham post and mail, coventry telegraph, cuts, wolverhampton express and star, consultation, bpm media, redundancies