3pm post: Staff at the Herald group of newspapers have voted overwhelmingly for strike action, following a ballot conducted by the National Union of Journalists.
Of those who voted, some 74.3 per cent said ‘yes’ to strike action, while an option for industrial action, but short of strike action (such as ‘working to rule’), received 87.3 per cent support. The ballot was called following the proposed sacking of staff from the Evening Times, as owners, Newsquest, seek budget and job cuts. A number of staff across the group have already applied for, and had accepted by management, voluntary redundancy packages.
NUJ members at The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times, plus Caledonian Magazines, will walk out next Friday. If it goes ahead, it will be the first strike in Scottish newspapers in 25 years.
NUJ Scottish Organiser, Paul Holleran, said: “Our members have had enough of the extremism of this management. Despite massive profits, they keep seeking cuts. They have gone too far this time in selecting fine, experienced journalists for compulsory redundancy when they are aware of a dozen or so others with similar skills are seeking voluntary redundancy deals in other parts of the building. We will do whatever required to stop this dreadful behaviour and that includes striking, legal action and political pressure through an inquiry into their misleading assurances to the Competition Commission when they took over four years ago.”
The NUJ was hopeful that the Competition Commission would re-investigate the purchase of the titles, by Newsquest from SMG. And last week, the commission said they would re-open the case, until it was later realised that a three-year timeframe for such action had elapsed. It prompted SNP MP, Pete Wishart, to say he’s going to press John Hutton MP, Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, at Westminster, to order a re-examination of the purchase and whether pledges about the quality of the titles are being honoured.
The turnout was relatively low but Holleran said it was clearly down to the postal strikes. He added: “It is ironic that the success of the postal workers strike affected our ballot, but those ballot papers counted were overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action. And, anyway, in recent mass meetings of over 200 members, there has been unanimous votes in favour of action so that is the real mandate and we know how much support we have.”
Other industrial action will include a work to rule which Holleran believes will show how much the company relies on the goodwill of journalists to get the papers out on time.
Said Wishart: “It is sadly inevitable that this dispute has come to this sorry conclusion. This is
the first time for years that a Scottish newspaper has taken industrial action, and is an extremely serious situation. Hopefully, this will be a wake up call to Newsquest that their policy of job cuts are unsustainable and will lead to further erosion of the titles. When Newsquest acquired these newspapers, they made a commitment to develop, and invest in the Herald; instead, we find that these titles in an impoverished state and subject to a bitter industrial dispute.
“I urge Newsquest to respond positively to the results of the ballot and engage with journalist staff to get these titles back on course. In the meantime, I have also written to the Minister to see if he will intervene to ensure that Newsquest are brought back in front of the Competition Commission to account for their failure to meet the commitments they gave to the CC.”
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