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NUJ calls for Newsquest shake-up

21 December 2010

A Christmas message from Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ deputy general secretary.

Steve Bell Gannet cartoon

It's certainly been an eventful time for NUJ members throughout Newsquest – where festive cheer has been thin on the ground for some years now.

The impact of a three-year pay freeze, attacks on pensions and relentless job cuts have well and truly made their mark.

Following the scandalous September anniversary, when most staff worked their 1000th day without a pay rise, we have seen chapel after chapel say enough is enough.

Pay claims of between 5 and 8 per cent were lodged around the UK.

As the group continues to rake in the money, sticking to the line of difficult economic times simply cuts no ice.

Newsquest continues to make huge profits for its American owner – operating profit for Gannett UK was £71.7 million for 2009 compared to a loss of £462,000 in 2008.

And it's not as if pay restraint in these austere times has been shared in the boardroom where the bosses continue to make whoopee…

The highest-paid director – understood to be chief executive Paul Davidson – got a whopping 21.5 per cent pay rise last year, taking his salary to £609,235 – and while the axe was being taken to pension schemes across the group, the same director saw his pension pot rise from £38,536 to £94,986 in the same year.

At the same time, the company was encouraging staff to take a week's unpaid leave – to "help the company through the hard times".

Corporate greed continues to be the name of the game, while the treatment of hardworking, committed journalists who are passionate about the communities they serve has become ever more shabby.

Since then, chapels in Southampton and Brighton have taken decisive and strong strike action, Newsquest journalists have shown their flair for vibrant local campaigning and received a lot of support from their communities and there are ballots happening and results coming in almost daily.

More co-ordination is taking place throughout the group and action is planned for the New Year.

Already our firm stance is paying off – the pay freeze is showing signs of a thaw as offers of 2 per cent have started to be made in various centres.

It's hardly a fair deal after three years of stagnation but it is a sign that efforts are having an impact.

At the same time there is money available to pay bonuses to journalists who crossed picket lines in Southampton – rewards for so-called "extra duties".

Yet where is the recompense for journalists who regularly cover for colleagues on sick leave, fill in for maternity cover, who are routinely relied on to act up?

The message is clear – NUJ members in Newsquest are starting 2011 as they mean to go on.

It is time for bosses in the group to enter into meaningful negotiations on pay and conditions and to start treating their journalists and the local communities they serve with respect.

To raise some Christmas cheer, we asked Steve Bell, cartoonist at The Guardian, to channel his inner Gannett and come up with a special Newsquest Christmas message.

He's certainly captured the Scrooge-like spirit of the newspaper group recently described by media commentator, Roy Greenslade, as the "second worst newspaper employer in the UK".

A very merry Christmas from all at the NUJ – by sticking together and working collectively we can look forward to a more prosperous new year.

Tags: , gannett, regional newspapers, newsquest, guardian, pay, newspapers, steve bell