Express Newspapers boss Richard Desmond is to axe 145 jobs by 15 July, almost all of them journalists.
The "Ides of March" bad news went out in letters this Thursday to 540 editorial and library staff at the Daily and Sunday Express and Daily Star, telling them they can apply for voluntary redundancy under the old United News & Media terms.
It will probably be the last time such terms are on offer, because journalists suspect they will be made to sign new Northern & Shell contracts which will cut their holidays by 10 days, their sick pay and their pensions.
Add to the 145 the 25 to 30 journalists who have already left and new departures this week – production director Paul Rudd, with the company for 37 years, left on Monday by mutual agreement and art director Shem Law has resigned — the numbers of Express Newspapers journalists on the market this summer would probably only be exceeded by those left unemployed when a paper closes.
The redundancies are the result of an operational review of the titles, which N&S has been carrying out since November when it acquired the titles. Press Gazette understands the cuts signal the expectation of the company that it can change "the culture of newspaper journalism in the UK, adapting it for the 21st century".
There is rumoured to be £12.5m in the redundancy pot. There is no hit list. Instead, there will be a three-month consultation period for all affected employees, followed by one month’s individual consultation.
The cuts were foreshadowed by a lunch Desmond had with advertising people in Scotland last week, when he said he was not going to invest in editorial north of the border.
The bulk of the redundancies is likely to fall on the Daily Express. The Daily Star has suffered heavy losses already and Desmond doesn’t consider the 106 Star staff as excessive as he does the 430 on the two Expresses. Whatever the outcome – even if the unions involved manage to save some of the jobs – this will mean pooling of resources across all three titles.
“Our concern is not only that there will be significant potential redundancies but of the effect that they will have on the paper”Jeremy Dear – NUJ
Regional offices such as those in Manchester and Glasgow are expected to be hit hard; business, sport and showbiz could be decimated.
Those who are left at the end of the redundancy process – and the company reserves the right to turn down some applications – may face even more upheaval.
The NUJ chapels at the papers held a meeting on Wednesday after rumours of the cuts and possible worse conditions swept through Ludgate House.
Jeremy Dear, NUJ national newspaper organiser, said his members had resolved to oppose all redundancies and changes to terms and conditions and had called on Desmond to make good his promise to "spend what it takes" to improve the papers.
"Talk in the building is that if they get rid of that number of people, they will have to bring in a five-day week [many sub-editors are still on four days], longer working hours and new-style N&S contracts which will mean less holidays and much worse redundancy terms," he said.
"Our concern is not only that there will be significant potential redundancies but of the effect that will have on the paper. We fail to see how they can produce a quality product based on a head count of 250. It would mean them employing largely unskilled, young journalists on cheap wages and filling pages with columnists like Jonathan Ross.
"Working across the papers has already started with City staff [Express City journalists now provide business news for the Daily Star]. We would oppose strongly any ideas like central subbing pools."
The NUJ has around 250 members at Ludgate House and is due to talk to the company at Acas on Monday about union re-recognition.
Some 600 NUJ and GPMU members out of 780 staff have signed a petition in favour of being recognised.
By Jean Morgan
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