'ITV would do well to listen to the concerns of staff'

By Paul McLaughlin

The NUJ suspended a 24-hour strike across ITV regional newsrooms planned for 18 April as management have committed to "meaningful negotiations" at ACAS. Talks continue over the increased level of responsibility taken on by ITV journalists without financial reward.

In his piece presenting the management view of the current dispute, what a shame Laurie Upshon didn’t observe one of the primary codes of journalism before writing his comment, i.e. check your facts.

The age he refers to is long gone and not one recognised by journalists working in newsrooms across the country today. Many were not even born in 1979.

Life may have been different then, however for those interested in nostalgia, it may please them to know that in many newsrooms, expenses have not been updated for up to 15 years.

Lunch allowances wouldn’t buy a Happy Meal from McDonald’s.

Mileage payments on company cars in some parts are currently based on 88.2p per litre. It is actually costing journalists to go out on the road.

Most of the ITV newsrooms are now largely staffed by young graduate trainees — many of whom are paid less than journalists entering the business in the golden age he refers to of nearly 30 years ago. They come into the industry on salaries as low as £14,000 or £15,000.

That’s less than trainee teachers, police officers and firefighters.

To paint members in ITV as merely self-interested is a disservice and untrue. Journalists at ITV have endured years of below inflation pay increases, a pay freeze and a constant chipping away at conditions which has left most newsrooms overstretched and under resourced.

During this time, members did not engage in strike action. Journalists accepted the bad, in the hope that management would reward the good. They have been sadly let down.

The view presented is that NUJ members in ITV should concentrate on the fight for the future of regional news, not in raising their own terms and conditions. However, NUJ members across ITV will continue to fight detrimental changes to broadcasting policy and regulation. In the past, we would have fought alongside ITV, now many executives cast themselves as opponents of Public Service Broadcasting.

Ofcom has allowed ITV to abandon many of its PSB commitments. It is a sad indictment of the current ITV management that we are positioned on opposite sites of the argument.

It is not true to say the conflict is over money for "new technology". The current dispute concerns the company’s failure to properly reward or even acknowledge the increasing responsibilities undertaken by journalists in a digital ITV.

For more than two years, ITV has refused to enter formal negotiations.

Faced with silence, members voted to take action. Journalists are not naturally militant people.

The fact that journalists are prepared to strike says something about the anger felt in newsrooms up and down the country about how they are being treated.

The NUJ is not a separate entity — it is a union of its members. It is the members who voted to take strike action, to stand up and be counted and to say to ITV they’ve had enough.

With talks at ACAS last week and more scheduled for early May, the dispute is finely balanced. Details of the negotiations remain confidential. ITV would do well to listen to the concerns of its journalists.

Paul McLaughlin is the National Union of Journalists’ national broadcasting organiser

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