The new owner of the Rotherham Advertiser has denied staff "victimisation" claims as it faced a growing backlash over the decision to make a long-serving union rep redundant.
The weekly title, owned by the same family for over a century, was sold to former Garnett Dickinson Group chief executive Nick Alexander in March for an undisclosed sum.
After a redundancy consultation, one journalist out of 14 editorial staff was singled out: Phil Turner, the National Union of Journalists Father of the Chapel at the paper and a reporter with 30 years’ experience at the company.
NUJ members, who Press Gazette understands comprise 94 per cent of the Advertiser’s editorial staff, maintain that they did not agree with the redundancy selection process and will appeal the decision.
Advertiser journalists voted unanimously in favour of strike action on 28 May and will stage a 24-hour deadline-day walkout on Thursday 11 June.
A company spokesperson said: “Despite claims to the contrary Phil Turner has not been sacked.
“In a complex and wide ranging restructure of an interconnected group of five businesses the post of one journalist has been made redundant. The NUJ and wider union movement has presented this as ‘victimisation’ and ‘anti-union tactics in a Tory led government’ which we reject in the strongest possible terms.
“The union needs to decide whether it wishes to support a privately owned newspaper with modest jobs cut in the face of declining revenues or allow representative of various unions to turn this into a political issue, call for boycotts and threaten to damage the paper at the risk of more jobs cuts if revenues decline further.”
On Saturday 6 June, according to the NUJ around 250 people gathered in All Saints Square in Rotherham town centre (pic below, credit: NUJ) to call for Turner to be reinstated.
Demonstrators carried placards and banners from NUJ branches in London, Manchester and Birmingham. Turner and Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh also gave speeches at the event.
Turner told protesters: “It’s not really about me – of course it is about my job – but it’s about everyone. It’s about defending our unions. It’s about defending every job. It’s about fighting, really, for a voice for ordinary working class people in our society…
“The chapel have been fantastic. They’ve supported me from the start and we will continue that fight whatever happens because we know that what we’re standing for is quality journalism. It is for the sort of journalism that the media bosses, that those that own the Advertiser are not interested in.
“They don’t want to hold corporations to account. They don’t want to hold councils to account. They want to see everything turned into profit. And we have to fight very hard against that.”
But he urged local people not to stop buying the paper, saying: “We understand that, but we really don’t advocate a boycott because…we want people to see that what the journalists on the Advertiser are trying to do is to…carry out quality reporting on what’s going on in this town.
“So, we understand why people don’t want to buy the paper but we don’t see that as part of the strategy. Our strategy is to keep on fighting.”
Messages of support for Turner have been sent by the National Union of Teachers, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion and Linda McAvan, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.
In a letter to Nick Alexander on Friday 5 June, McAvan wrote: “I am writing to you over concern Phil Turner who, I understand, has been selected for compulsory redundancy by the Rotherham Advertiser.
“I know that Phil has worked at the Advertiser for more than 30 years and is deeply committed to local journalism. I also know that there are concerns that his redundancy is linked to his union activities as NUJ Father of Chapel. Other staff are extremely concerned and industrial action is on the cards. I am sure you would agree that the right to join and be active in a trade union is a fundamental right in any democratic society.
“I hope therefore you will reconsider the compulsory redundancy during the appeal process.
Champion also wrote to Alexander. She said: "I am contacting you to express my sadness and concern that Phil Turner has been selected for redundancy from his position at the Rotherham Advertiser.
“I know Phil to be a skilled and committed journalist. His over 30 year tenure at the paper has left him with an unrivalled understanding of Rotherham and its community. I was therefore troubled to hear that Phil has been let go from the paper he has served with such distinction.
“I am aware that concerns have been raised, both by Phil’s colleagues and by the National Union of Journalists, regarding the procedure in which employees were selected for redundancy. It has been suggested by the Union that Phil’s role as the Father of Chapel at the Advertiser may have been a factor in the decision. I am sure you would agree that it is imperative that this is demonstrated to not be the case.”
NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser Chris Morley told Press Gazette that he and a chapel member met with senior management at the Advertiser yesterday “to seek potential solutions to avert Thursday’s planned strike".