Open letter to all National World staff from the NUJ group chapel

  • 26 Sep 2023

NUJ calls on National World to return to negotiations addressing "insidious" pay issues at the company, following three-day strike action by journalists.

Dear colleague,

Today you received an email from the leadership of National World, signed off simply as being from ‘Internal Communications’. It is the latest of many sent by the company in relation to the industrial action taking place as members of the National Union of Journalists show just how determined they are to fight for a better pay deal for all editorial staff. 

It seems nobody in the company’s leadership team wanted to put their name to a message that once again focuses on the view from the top, instead of recognising the realities of what their unfair pay policies mean for individual staff in our newsrooms. 

Perhaps they’re embarrassed to defend the decision to freeze the pay scales used to set the salaries of new starters and promoted staff at 2019 rates. Maybe nobody was willing to publicly defend their choice to do nothing to address existing pay disparities and to allow them to widen even further this year.

They’re almost certainly embarrassed to be asking trainee reporters on lower hourly rates than Aldi cleaners to spare a thought for executive chairman David Montgomery as he makes ends meet with a “lower than market” basic salary that was worth £205,000 last year.

No doubt the four million shares awarded to Mr Montgomery personally earlier this year will help him to keep the lights on. Those shares alone were worth £22,000 - more than the annual salaries for many trainee reporter grades - when £1.4m was paid out in dividends to shareholders in July. Meanwhile, some of our trainees will be continuing to work second jobs just to be able to afford to stay in the industry.

The company’s message also glosses over the detail of “some restructuring” that resulted in the recent compulsory and voluntary redundancies of more than 50 of its approximately 700 journalists. It claims that acquisitions of titles like the Rotherham Advertiser - where job cuts were swiftly made - represent an expansion of the workforce.

You need look no further than National World’s own annual reports and results statements to see what the most senior executives have done when it comes to creating jobs. Before the latest redundancies, the company had already slashed its workforce by 27% compared to the start of 2021 when it first bought JPIMedia.

The people at the very top of National World are so determined not to address the insidious pay issues in the company that they instructed their legal team to threaten action against the NUJ if the strike was not called off. The union responded robustly, the company did not take the issue to court - and our well-supported strike days went ahead.

Unlike National World, the NUJ is not controlled by an executive chairman. The "external union officials" that the company spends so much of its email complaining about do not direct our members. It is quite the opposite. They are here to support members whose bosses have proven themselves to be totally unwilling to act fairly.

Our union is directed by the views and concerns of ordinary journalists who know full well what the working conditions in this business are really like. Those journalists tell their chapel reps what issues they want to see raised, those journalists were all invited to vote in the ballot over industrial action, those journalists joined our picket lines and rallies again on Monday and are now working to rule.

Like you, we now look forward to hearing about the “enhanced career prospects” to be offered by a company that has recently stripped out dozens of senior editorial roles for reporters to progress towards. We look forward to hearing how the company will ensure young journalists can continue to contribute to the business once qualified, instead of being among the “many of whom have gone on to careers with national publishers and broadcasters”.

Paying competitive salaries would be a good place to start if the company is serious about retaining more of the staff who it spends time and money training. They might also wish to reflect on what the 4% pay rise agreed at rival publisher Reach meant in practice for staff.

Under the pay offer imposed by National World, a newly-qualified senior reporter on some of our weekly titles will get as little as £22,753 per year and someone securing an equivalent role on the flagship Yorkshire Post gets £26,855. Meanwhile, the minimum senior reporter rate at Reach has now risen to £31,200. Another key detail missing from the company’s latest message urging you to help to preserve the status quo and support its real-terms pay cut.

If National World really wants to “optimise the collective effort” then it can start by addressing the pay issues that are driving some journalists out of the business and leaving others in financial hardship. It can use some of its £22m cash reserves and investment capabilities to ensure that the pay disparities of its own making are eradicated and staff are properly rewarded now, not at some unspecified date in the future.

Our offer for the company to return to talks at Acas remains open and you can join us in urging National World to come back to the table by signing our petition and asking everyone else you know to do the same. 

And if you’re a non-member who’s reconsidering their position after reading this, we would very much like to invite you to join the NUJ. Everyone who joins now and takes part in our continuing ‘work to rule’ will be making the voice of the ordinary journalists at National World stronger. You will be helping to fight for a better pay deal for everyone.

Thank you for reading,

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser on behalf of the group chapel

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