Oxford Mail and Times use fire-and-rehire tactic to end bank holiday working payments

  • 11 May 2021

The union has condemned a move to terminate the contracts of journalists working at the Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times, with re-employment being conditional on accepting worse terms and conditions.

Newsquest, the company that publishes the Oxford titles, issued the termination notices after the National Union of Journalists at the Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times rejected a proposal to end ‘time-and-a-half’ pay for working on bank holidays (excluding Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

The proposal would affect around 15 journalists at the company, with the greatest impact falling on the newsdesk, the sports reporter, and sole remaining sub, who are most likely to be called on to work on a bank holiday. Reporters routinely work many hours overtime to cover for redundancies and unfilled vacancies.

According to Newsquest’s own figures, the ending of bank holiday working payments would save “under £200 per bank holiday”.

The notices of contract terminations were sent out without adhering to the disputes procedure laid out in the recognition agreement between the NUJ and Newsquest.

Anna Wagstaff, secretary of the Oxford and District NUJ branch said:

"The practice of ripping up employees’ contracts to force through worse terms and conditions has been widely condemned not just by trade unions but by MPs across the political spectrum.

"We are horrified to see such despotic tactics being used by a local paper, which likes to present itself as a watchdog of democracy and accountability. For a profitable company to resort to fire and rehire in pursuit of negligible savings and without even going through the agreed disputes procedure shows a level of contempt for dedicated and hardworking staff that readers will doubtless find hard to understand."

Journalists in the Oxford Mail NUJ chapel (workplace branch) said:

"With a severely depleted newsroom, we have all worked well beyond our contracted hours for the past year, resulting in the Oxford Mail’s print circulation figures holding up better than any other regional daily, and the Oxford Mail website attracting among the highest levels of subscribers of all Newsquest titles. It was therefore disappointing to have the company respond to this by proposing to cut our bank holiday working pay. To then have new contracts imposed on us in this way is highly stressful and demotivating."

NUJ national organiser Laura Davison said:

"It’s sickening to see these journalists who slog their guts out every day covering local stories, treated in this way. Many of our members haven’t been with Newsquest very long and for the company to act in such a cavalier and uncaring way towards them is appalling; especially when they go above and beyond in terms of long hours each and every week. Newsquest should immediately withdraw these dismissal notices and enter into meaningful negotiations with the union to address the toxic working culture that’s affecting the health and wellbeing of our members and turning Newsquest into the employer no-one wants to deal with."

The NUJ’s call for the dismissal notices to be withdrawn has received backing from Layla Moran MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East.

Layla Moran MP said:

"I completely oppose the use of fire and rehire tactics to worsen working conditions for hard-working local journalists. They are the lifeblood of our community, and many are my own constituents. I join the NUJ in calling on Newsquest to withdraw these dismissal notices and enter into meaningful negotiations. Local journalism is a vital part of our democracy, and we have to protect that and make sure everyone in the industry, from publishers to sub-editors, gets the fair deal they deserve."

Anneliese Dodds MP said:

"Labour has called for an outright ban on the practice of ‘fire and rehire’, which has been repeatedly used in recent months to reduce pay, terms and conditions. The government must listen and act to outlaw this practice. Until it does so, employers, including Newsquest, should follow the proper procedures.... I know how hard the journalists and other staff at the Oxford Mail work and I am really concerned to hear that they are being subjected to ‘fire and rehire’."

Newsquest has refused the union’s requests to follow the agreed disputes procedure and withdraw the fire and rehire notices.

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