Journalists at Springer Nature titles set to strike over pay 

  • 07 Jun 2024

93% of NUJ members at the Nature Portfolio of journals have voted for strike action, due to start 20 June.

Staff at  Nature and dozens of other leading science journals will walk out on 20 June, after National Union of Journalists (NUJ) members overwhelmingly voted in favour of industrial action over a pay dispute.

In their ballot, which saw a 90% turnout, 93% of staff supported strike action. The planned action will include a number of strike days as well as working to rule, scheduled throughout June and July.

An NUJ spokesperson said:

“We knew that the majority of staff were frustrated with the company and the way it was handling these negotiations, but even we were surprised by the strength of feeling shown by this ballot result. This sends a signal to the company that they need to come back to the negotiating table.”

Having started in September 2023, talks between the union and the publisher escalated to the mediation organisation ACAS before finally breaking down in April. The UK staff, comprising nearly 400 academic editors, journalists, art editors and production staff, have rejected an offer of 5.8%, which Springer Nature claims is “above inflation”. 

The spokesperson added:

“It is disingenuous to suggest that the offer on the table is now magically above inflation just because the headline rate of inflation has come down since September last year. A fall in inflation rate does not equate to a fall in prices — things are still getting more expensive, just more slowly.

“What’s more, inflation alone doesn’t convey the rampant rise in the cost of living — food prices, for example, were 13.6% higher in September 2023 than in the previous year. Not to mention the steep rises in mortgages and rents that continues to this day. Private-sector pay rises in September were an average of 7.9% as good companies recognised the increased cost of living for their employees. Meanwhile, Springer Nature staff remain out of pocket.”

Staff work across more than 60 journals, including the world’s leading science journal, Nature, which has been owned by international publisher Springer Nature since 2015. As well as the Nature titles, there could also be ramifications for society journals, such as The EMBO Journal and The British Dental Journal, which are also published by Springer Nature. 

These are demanding jobs, and workload is high. An editor at the Nature portfolio provides some insight: “Why is 5.8% not enough? Because my salary is not enough to do the job I do, which takes more than eight hours a day, for which I travel, often staying up until midnight at conference poster sessions, recruiting papers, talking to people. It’s not enough to work on a severely, chronically understaffed team, sometimes handling difficult issues around scientific misconduct, corrections and retractions.

“Not enough after eight years of higher education, which cost me tens of thousands of pounds. My salary is now less than what some postdocs make, not that we should be aiming to earn as much as a notoriously underpaid and underappreciated profession. I left academia to be treated with respect given the skills I bring on board, and be able to support myself. This is not the case at this company.”

In 2022, Springer Nature Group made a profit of €487 million (around $530 million, representing a margin of 27%) on its global revenues of €1.8 billion ($2 billion). It has recently announced it is seeking to hire two new VPs, at salaries of up to $250,000 each. Its long-awaited IPO is speculated to happen soon, potentially even this year.

Nature staff balloted to strike in the early 1990s, when the journal was owned by Macmillan, but action was averted when the company returned to the negotiating table. Should these strikes go ahead, it will not only be the first time that Nature staff have downed tools, but it is potentially the first time that an issue of the weekly journal will be missed in its 155-year history.

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