One tenth of the NUJ’s 36,000-strong membership are on “poverty pay” and earn less than £10,000 a year, according to general secretary Jeremy Dear.
He told the annual delegate meeting that some members on a weekly newspaper in the Midlands were being paid £8,250 a year and were forced to earn extra cash by cleaning their own offices.
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Dear said: “Ten per cent of our members still earn under £10,000 and some work 60 hours a week. In the past five years we have had increased numbers of complaints from our members about stress and bullying.
“Three have committed suicide in the past 18 months which have been blamed by their families on stress at work.”
Dear warned: “As long as companies continue to pay poverty pay while making record profits there will never be industrial peace.”
Chris Morley (Birmingham and Coventry) said he had been told that graduates working on weekly papers in Worcestershire were being paid £8,500 a year.
“These are graduates who have paid thousands of pounds to get their qualifications,” he said. “Low pay has got to stop and we are the only ones who can stop it.”
The conference backed a motion calling for a national campaign against low pay and for the NUJ to “name and shame” the poorest-paying employers. The union is going to give two “Scrooge” prizes to the meanest companies based on pay for freelances and staff.
Dear and the conference supported a motion calling for national pay and conditions agreements with newspaper publishers that take into account local costs of living. He said that journalists on Newsquest weeklies in South London were earning £12,000 a year while flats within the papers’ circulation area cost £240,000.
Delegates also called for a new law requiring UK employers to carry the salary range of jobs when they are advertised.
A sign of the growing militancy over pay on regional newspapers came when the conference was told that NUJ journalists on Newsquest titles in Bolton and Bury were to go on strike for two days this week after rejecting a 2 per cent pay claim.
Journalists on titles published by Newsquest Bradford have already held a series of strikes in support of a £1,500 across the board pay claim.