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Reps' Summit 2019

12 April 2019

Manchester’s Mechanics Institute is famously where the Trades Union Congress was founded in 1868.

While our 19th-century comrades would have puzzled over the terms online trolling, clickbait and digital disruption, the experience of poverty pay, bullying managements and job cuts would have been very familiar, so it was a fitting venue for the NUJ’s reps’ summit.

Federica Bedendo, the Newsquest group MoC, said she was proud of colleagues in Cumbria who went on strike at Christmas over pay. She described barely-staffed newsrooms, with experienced journalists being replaced with apprentices on a £7,000 salary. Poverty pay was rife at Newsquest, she said, but it was even worse where the union was not strong.

"The problem is that when the experienced members go, those left do not have the time to help the apprentices and new staff,” she said. “There is very little training offered and Newsquest just chips away at pay and expenses.”

The publisher is rolling out what it calls “remote working”, which is another way of saying home working, but staff are not eligible for tax relief. Reporters are told to head off to the nearest coffee shop and use its wi-fi.  “Despite all, we still do it,” said Frederica. “I always think of my 69-year-old colleague, Viv, who says she does it ‘because nobody else will look after Maryport’. It’s because we believe in representing our communities and in democracy.”

Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ’s general secretary gave her apologies, urgent union work had kept her in London, but she sent a message, read by Laura Davison, senior national organiser. It said the NUJ had worked hard on the issue of gender pay and particularly equal pay at the BBC, where the union’s collective complaint eventually covered about 180 members. It had been dogged, detailed work. "The publication of the gender pay gap figures had been a game-changer," she added: “The figures provided real opportunities to tackle the problems that make gender pay a reality, the layered ways in which women are discriminated against in the workplace. "  These included:

  • no pay scales;
  • lack of transparency;
  • opaque, unfair recruitment processes that lead to managers hiring in their own image;
  • the resistance to flexible working and meaningful work-life balance;
  • pregnancy and maternity discrimination that cuts away opportunities from talented women;
  • the cult of presenteeism;
  • the male dominance of senior roles.

NUJ briefing on gender pay gap
Gender pay gap reporting: a TUC guide for trade union activists

reps' summit 2019
                     Steve Bird

Steve Bird, Financial Times FoC, said his chapel exposed the Nikkei-owned company’s gender pay gap and excessive executive salaries. “This year’s gap was slightly down, possibly because the union forced the chief executive to take a £1 million pay cut,” he said.

Gender pay gaps have increased at more than a third of UK media companies, according to a Press Gazette analysis. The biggest increase was at Wall Street Journal publisher, Dow Jones, where the median gender pay gap rose from 19.6 per cent to 28.3 per cent, with the Press Association’s median pay gap rising from 0.5 per cent to 4.6 per cent in favour of men.

The Economist Group had the highest median gender pay gap, with women on average paid 29.2 per cent less per hour than men. The Telegraph, Mirror Group Newspapers, Reuters and Condé Nast were among the worst offenders. CNN had the biggest median bonus pay gap for the second year, and magazine publisher Hearst went from 3.8 per cent to 50.2 per cent. Companies said their pay gap was down to the fact
 that more men occupied senior roles.

Reps were encouraged to pin up their company’s pay gap on the office noticeboard.

Steve Bird said he thought there was a “glimmer” of optimism that the industry had started to take gender pay more seriously. But there were still many examples of senior staff pocketing large sums, despite the falling circulations and revenues, while the rest of the staff received minimal pay increases. He told delegates chapels should organise against excessive executive pay – and at the other end of the scale: “We need to be targeting early-career journalists. These are generally debt-laden graduates who need decent starting salaries. Pay is an issue that unites everyone and is a great opportunity for chapels to build up membership on the back of pay campaigns.”

Chris Morley, Northern and Midlands senior organiser, said chapels should carry out pay surveys, including breakdowns by gender and ethnicity.

What does a good pay system look like? Equality and Human Rights Commission check list.

laura downes
Laura Downes

Laura Downes, former MoC at RCNi, the health professionals’ publisher, told the summit how a new chief executive’s bullying made people’s life a misery. Collective action by union members -- and having a strong chapel -- resulted in journalists voting for a no confidence motion against her. This led to an independent review of the company which backed the union and resulted in the CEO being marched off the premises and her sidekicks being dismissed. But it had been tough.

Laura said: “It all took time and members started to panic, saying we wouldn’t win. And it was scary, it would have been terrible if we had lost but, by sticking together, we did it.”  Reps at the summit said they had members who were being bullied but were too frightened to be named in a complaint.

The press has increasingly become the target of the far right and the summit heard that journalists had long been victims of online abuse. Chris Morley read out a terrifying testimony from a member who has been – and continues to be – harassed by the English Defence League which claimed, incorrectly, that she had ripped up flowers laid at Sheffield cenotaph in honour of the murdered soldier, Lee Rigby. She still receives threats on the anniversary of his death.

reps' summit 2019
                              Adam Christie

Adam Christie, chair of the NUJ’s health and safety committee, explained health and safety legislation was the greatest tool for combating bullying and harassment at work. “The legislation says ‘work’ not ‘workplace’, he emphasised. He said all chapels should appoint a health and safety rep who should complete the NUJ’s training courses. “These reps have statutory powers,” he said. “They can organise risk assessments and carry out inspections, and this includes risk assessments for bullying, harassment and stress. Employers have to show they have taken reasonable precautions against such risk.” Waving a copy of the Health and Safety Executive’s Talking Toolkit: go home healthy, he said: “This document is our best friend when dealing with employers on work-related stress.”

NUJ briefing on bullying and harassment

Creating without Conflict: FEU campaign against bullying and harassment, with code of conduct and guides for staff and freelances.

Georgina Morris & Martin Shipton
Georgina Morris & Martin Shipton

The third panel, chaired by Georgina Morris, JPIMedia group chapel MoC, examined digital disruption; how changes to newspaper production had affected journalism. Martin Shipton, FoC of the Reach group chapel, said 77 per cent of the company’s revenue was still from print, but all its effort and plans were focused on digital. With the duopoly of Google and Facebook hoovering up all the digital advertising, newspapers were obsessed with increasing the click rates on stories, hoping the advertising would follow.

This has led to the promotion of stories about celebrities, outrageous “click-bait” headlines and lots of stories about sausage rolls, Martin said: “Our titles are no longer making judgments on stories with social value. It is very demoralising to pitch a “serious” story to the newsdesk only to be given a Greggs press release as a priority.”

The click-bait culture had also made managements obsessed with metrics, which in turn led to staff being given targets. He said: “We all receive a monthly email listing the reporters whose stories have received the most clicks. The 'league table' states how many clicks the reporters got. They stopped listing the poorly-performing stories after representations from the chapel.”

Georgina Morris said the fear was that this would be used as a form of back-door performance-related pay, with promotion and bonuses being linked to click rates. Reps described how they had worked for companies which paid out bonuses when reporters hit click targets. JPI Media has this year changed its Performance and Development Review ratings system, reducing it from five stars to three. However, it was only after all ratings had been awarded for the year that managers were told just 10 per cent of staff would be allowed to receive three stars (exceptional performer) and some were instructed to lower the ratings of their staff to ensure the quota was not exceeded.

The move to a 24/7 news cycle has also had an inevitable effect on staff, particularly as cuts roll out; the demands are greater and the staff fewer. Speakers at the summit said they were expected to produce a minimum of five stories a day. Stress surveys carried out by the union have shown the unreasonable workloads heaped on staff.

Laura Davison said “The summit was an excellent and extremely useful day. We all learned from speaking to each other and sharing experiences and expertise. It has given us plenty of food for thought for future campaigns and in our discussions with newspaper group managements. The union wil have to fight back against this increasingly target-based attitude to news."

The day included practical sessions on making a pay claim and determining employment status, while a group of local democracy reporters heard from Phil Morcom, chair of the NUJ’s council for communications workers, who said council press officers needed more information about the scheme which pays for council meetings to be reported. The group also looked at the findings of a survey of LDRs, to be published soon.

Reps can find out the latest dates for training and sign up to the free courses on the NUJ Training diary page.

Tags: , reps, reps' summit, newsquest, jpimedia, reach, pay, gender pay gap, equal pay, bullying, harassment, health and safety, stress, clickbait, targets, local democracy reporters, press officers