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December 21, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:53am

FT cuts 64 staff, including on FT Chinese, as staff say £1.9m pay to former editor ‘toxic to morale’

By Dominic Ponsford

National Union of Journalists members at the FT have described former editor Lionel Barber’s 2019 pay of £1.92m as a “slap in the face” as it emerged the title is planning to cut up to 64 staff.

Hits to advertising revenue and events income, mean FT Group (owned by Nikkei) is expected to make a small loss in 2020 compared with an operating profit of £28m in 2019.

Press Gazette understands the FT is proposing to make 64 redundancies out of a global workforce of 2,300 (700 of whom are journalists).

The voluntary redundancies are believed to include up to 20 in editorial.

According to insiders 19 jobs are understood to be under threat at FT Chinese.

The NUJ chapel said in a statement: “We condemn the FT’s moves to make staff redundant just before Christmas in what has been a year of massive uncertainty due to the pandemic; this contrasts starkly with the CEO’s reassurances this summer that no jobs would be lost during 2020.

“We are especially concerned at the proposal to close completely FT Chinese’s only overseas editorial operation at a time when journalists are under increasing pressure in China. We are extremely worried about the speed of the consultations with staff put at risk in this team and find it hard to believe that meaningful alternatives were explored before our members were pressed to sign redundancy agreements.”

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FT management said in a statement: “The pandemic has impacted some business lines permanently e.g. live events, so we are adapting accordingly. We intend to invest more in growth areas like the subscriptions business and digital events in 2021.

“We are pivoting FT Chinese from an advertising-supported business to a subscriptions business, and some current roles are affected. This will not change the FT’s China coverage or footprint.”

Former editor Barber’s salary comprised contractual performance-related pay and money in lieu of notice. It was revealed in accounts for FT Ltd which showed profit down to £1.89m in 2019, compared with £8.2m the previous year, mainly due to office-move costs.

FT Ltd does not include much joint venture and oveseas income. An internal briefing put FT Group profit at £29m for 2019 on turnover of £408m.

In a new statement the union chapel said of Barber’s pay-off: “In a year dominated by Covid-related pay restraint, as FT staff are in the middle of a round of redundancies, NUJ members at the Financial Times are furious that unacceptable levels of executive pay at the company have been revealed once again.

“The FT faces a substantial gender pay gap and most staff have had below-inflation pay rises for several years in a row. For one individual to leave the organisation with £1.92m, more than 70 times the level of a trainee salary at the FT, is a slap in the face for all staff who work tirelessly to produce an industry-leading newspaper and website with no pot of gold at the end of their career.

“FT staff pride themselves on a collegiate and collaborative attitude to our work. The union has championed digital retraining as a means of avoiding compulsory redundancies in a challenging financial landscape for journalism and has played a central role in ensuring that our online operation is properly funded, helping make it a vital part of our future.

“We reject any notion that FT success is about a single individual and believe that such excessive payouts are toxic to morale.

“We are seeking more information about the leaving package given to our former editor and about pay for the FT board.

“We want to fix executive pay to a defined ratio with average pay and ask the company to share details of company accounts with union reps well in advance of publication. In 2018, in the aftermath of a previous scandal over executive pay at the Financial Times, we proposed putting elected reps on the FT board and that remains on the table for future talks; we believe that this is more necessary now than ever.”

FT chief executive John Ridding’s pay was flat year-on-year in 2019 at £1.68m.

A spokesperson for the FT said of Barber’s pay: “After 35 years at the FT, including 14 successful years as editor, Mr Barber was paid a total of £1.9m in 2019, including his contractual, performance-related pay and a further, contractual payment in lieu of notice.

“This resulted in a one-off higher than usual total figure, which is disclosed in the FT Ltd accounts. Those accounts have already been filed at Companies House, well in advance of the December deadline.”

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