The battle to end low pay on regional newspapers is a top priority of the NUJ following its success in winning back union recognition deals.
It was announced at the union’s annual delegate conference in Eastbourne at the weekend that the NUJ has regained recognition at the Bristol Evening Post after a ruling in its favour by the Central Arbitration Committee.
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The decision by the CAC, which arbitrates between unions and management, means the NUJ will be able to negotiate journalists’ pay, hours and holidays.
Significantly, the Evening Post is part of Northcliffe, seen by the union as being one of the newspaper group’s most hardline in opposing recognition.
General secretary Jeremy Dear told the conference: "This is one of our greatest victories. Northcliffe is one of the companies that did everything to keep the union out of the workplace. It has been defeated by the determination of our members."
Bristol is hailed as a major breakthrough but delegates at the annual conference saw the winning of a better pay deal for lower paid newspaper journalists following the strike action at Newsquest’s Bradford centre as a template for the future.
The conference heard that ballots on industrial action over pay are already taking place at Yorkshire Post Newspapers, the Lancashire Evening Post, Greater Manchester Weekly Newspapers and Express Newspapers.
Low pay was an issue often raised at the conference. One delegate said that most graduates entering journalism owe the bank more than they will earn in their first year.
Sarah Warden (Greater London Newspapers) said the combination of student debt and low starting pay meant there was a danger that journalism will only be open to a well-off elite.
"How can we attract talented young journalists when they cannot contemplate buying a house, starting a family or getting out of debt?" she asked.
Anna Wagstaff (Oxford) told delegates: "Low pay is an issue whose time has come. We’ve battled for recognition, low pay is the issue which will rebuild our chapels and branches. I believe we can do it. Bradford has shown we can do it."
Delegates backed a motion instructing the NUJ’s executive to campaign against low pay and "name and shame" bad payers.
The fervour over pay in the regions also led for a call for the NUJ to try and revive a national pay agreement with the Newspaper Society which would set minimum rates for all regional journalists. The agreement was scrapped more than a decade ago after the NS asked for exemptions for some of the smaller newspaper companies. At the time many in the NUJ believed the way forward was for chapels to negotiate pay deals rather than have a national deal, but then along came derecognition.
Dear said he would approach the society for talks. He did not, however, hold out much hope for a voluntary agreement. "The NS will not write back, speak to me, share a platform with me or sit on a committee with me. The only way we will get a national agreement is to campaign to force the NS into one," he said.
By Jon Slattery