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NUJ reacts to Johnston Press company performance

22 March 2016

Following the publication of Johnston Press financial results the union has reacted to the news that the company’s operating profit was £50.6m with the profit before tax increased by 22.6 per cent to £31.5m. Profit margins are at 21 per cent. The company profits announcement comes at same time as NUJ members are facing job cuts and restructuring across Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.

NUJ members in the News Letter, the Derry Journal and Morton Newspapers are in dispute over pay, redundancy terms, staffing levels and changes to work practices. Union members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action. NUJ membership reaches higher than 90 per cent of eligible staff across the Johnston Press group in Northern Ireland and the ballot was close to 100 per cent in favour of strike action.

In Scotland, staff face potential compulsory redundancies on the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News. The editorial numbers across the company’s 28 Scottish weeklies have been drastically cut leaving many titles struggling with inadequate staffing levels. It’s not uncommon for titles to have just one reporter and no editor.

Workload pressures and staffing levels remain major issues across all sites. According to Press Gazette figures in October 2015, Johnston Press has shut or merged 33 titles since 2012. The figures for 2015 show 17 titles were closed in the second half of the year. The company report said that its headcount had fallen from 3,242 a year ago to 2,840.

Despite Johnston Press cutting back on regional and local papers it was still able to find £25m to buy The i. Company shareholders have now approved the sale and jobs are being offered to people at the Independent. The NUJ is seeking assurances that staff pay and terms will be securely protected as people take up the new jobs.

The company’s CEO Ashley Highfield statement published alongside the financial results has celebrated the company being the “fourth largest player in the market”. The financial results also show the long-term incentive plans of senior management cost a total of £1,589k.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"Members at Johnston Press are deeply sceptical about the company's strategy. For too long they have been asked to bear the pain today for the benefit of future success which doesn't arrive.
"Members were shocked when the purchase of the i was announced; money they didn't know the company had was diverted to a major acquisition, rather than invested internally. Branding certain titles as 'sub core' and announcing a focus on 'higher yield advertisers, flourishing families, and growth towns' feels like the company is busy writing off big sections of its workforce and its readership.
"Now we learn that profit margins of over 20 per cent are being sustained by further cuts at grassroots level. All this means that Johnston Press is failing to take staff with them in their grand project. Action is needed to address the very real concerns members are highlighting."

Nicola Coleman, NUJ Irish organiser, said:

"It is outrageous to propose job cuts when this union has consistently highlighted chronic understaffing and the subsequent pressures on our member’s health and wellbeing not to mind the quality of the papers.
"While NUJ members face yet another attack on their working conditions and struggle to serve their communities and produce quality newspapers, senior executives in Johnston Press are rewarding themselves handsomely.
"The annual report under the heading 'incentive plans' reveals a bonus arrangement for the 'retention and incentivisation of senior managers (excluding Executive Directors) of £3.9 million' which will be payable in March 2016. This is in stark contrast to how our members are treated, having endured pay freezes for years and who have only recently seen small percentage increases to their salaries, while restructure after restructure has reduced editorial staffing levels by more than half and wiped out almost all promotional opportunities.
"The latest financial results show that demands for a decent redundancy package, an agreement on staffing levels and a fair pay scale can be delivered. The result of the ballot signifies a massive display of unity, strength and determination to take a stand for fairness and respect."

Tags: , johnston press, finances, profits, ashley highfield, independent, local newspapers, regional newspapers, local news matters, england, northern ireland, scotland, news letter, derry journal, morton newspapers, job cuts, pay and conditions, restructure, industrial action, ballot, scotsman, scotland on sunday, edinburgh evening news, closure