London Mayor Boris Johnson and five other Conservative MPs have backed striking journalists in their demands to be paid the London Living Wage and be provided with an office to work in.
An Early Day Motion filed in Parliament states:
That this House believes that local newspapers play a crucial role in enhancing local democracy, such as by reporting on council meetings, holding local decision-makers to account and providing a forum for local issues; recognises that many local journalists are paid below the London Living Wage, despite the valuable work they do; is therefore concerned that Newsquest South London, a large regional publisher, is planning to cut the number of journalists and impose redundancies at local newspapers in South London, including the Croydon Guardian, Sutton Guardian, Wimbledon Guardian, Wandsworth Guardian, Epsom Guardian, Surrey Comet, Elmbridge Comet and Richmond and Twickenham Times; notes that Newsquest has made large profits in recent years; is further concerned about the impact that these job losses could have on the quality of local journalism; regrets that many local journalists have decided to go on strike over the last fortnight; and calls on Newsquest to review urgently its plans for job losses in South London.
Negotiations between senior NUJ officers and Newsquest bosses are continuing as the 12-day strike, which began last Thursday, continues.
Journalists from Newsquest's South West London and Surrey titles are on strike following the decision to merge two of its London offices.
The Petts Wood newsroom is set to close, with many journalists (including trainees), set to be asked to work from home – or at coffee shops and libraries.
A number of staff have already been made redundant. Positions put at risk in the restructure include the roles of: group editor, editor, deputy editor, assistant editor and news editor. Reporting jobs are also set to go.
A journalist who writes for the Sutton Guardian told Press Gazette: "It's no longer the case that local papers have different correspondents for different sections. It has now got to the stage where we will soon have only one and a half reporters covering all the news in a single borough. We're in dire straits." He said that the pay conditions for trainees meant that papers were struggling to recruit, and they said that there has been one pay rise across the board since 2008.
NCTJ-qualified trainee reporters begin on £16,500 a year. The London Living Wage (a recommended minimum rate of pay set by the Mayor of London) is currently £9.15 an hour, meaning a reporter working a typical 40-hour week could expect to be paid £19,000 a year.
Speaking from the picket line outside Newsquest's Sutton headquarters, a trainee reporter described how this was the second wave of redundancies that she had witnessed, after a number of staff were laid off in only her second week of the job earlier this year. She said: "It was just after the election, when we were all happy and had plenty to cover, and suddenly, the majority of the news team disappeared."
She said that she had come to journalism from another profession because of her passion for it, but was now faced with huge debts incurred from paying for her NCTJ training.
A journalist recently made redundant by Newsquest, who also asked not to be named, said although local newspapers aren't as well paid as other industries, she – along with many of her former colleagues – enjoyed their line of work. "There's a positive atmosphere here and these strikes are important to me not only because I've been made redundant, but because I care about the future of the profession."
The Newsquest strikers say they have received encouragement from MPs, London Assembly Members and their local communities.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett tweeted her support, saying: "Good luck Newsquest strikers – we need good local papers with adequate numbers of decently paid staff!"
Conservative MP for Kingston and Surbiton James Berry (pictured above, centre) said on Twitter: "With the
@SurreyComet team in #Kingston protesting at the proposed redundancies. Big impact on local democracy."
A union spokesperson said the strikes had meant that "only a handful" were left working for the Newsquest titles.
The continued industrial action follows a two-day strike by journalists working for South East London's News Shopper titles earlier this week over similar issues. Meanwhile, NUJ members working at Newsquest in York began balloting for action last month.
Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford Vicky Foxcroft said: "Newsquest and the government must do more to ensure jobs are protected and local newspapers stay in circulation. I am concerned that any merger of editorial teams will result in the slow decline of relevant local news and active reporters in the area of my constituency Lewisham Deptford."