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August 31, 2022updated 13 Oct 2022 12:30pm

Pictured: 1,150 Reach journalists on picket lines across UK and Ireland over 3% pay offer

By Charlotte Tobitt

The National Union of Journalists has reported strong turnouts at Reach picket lines across the UK and Ireland with staff “galvanised” by the issue of pay amid the cost of living crisis.

Wednesday was the first strike day of four planned by 1,150 journalists at Reach’s national and regional titles over the company’s offer for a 3% pay rise, with the next walkouts due on 13 to 15 September unless negotiations reopen.

After Wednesday, the journalists are planning a period of “work to rule” in which they complete only their contracted duties and hours.

Picket lines were being held on Wednesday morning in London’s Canary Wharf, Glasgow, Cardiff, Newcastle, Oldham, Liverpool, Hull, Birmingham, Bristol, Belfast and Dublin.

Many of Reach’s regional journalists downed tools but could not join a picket line outside their usual place of work as many are primarily home-based since the company closed many of its offices last year. An online rally was due to be held in the afternoon.

Reach’s national and regional websites like the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo were being updated but with less content than usual.

Reach NUJ strike picket line Hull
NUJ Reach picket line at the Hull Daily Mail on Wednesday 31 August 2022. Picture: NUJ East Yorkshire

A Mirror journalist at the Canary Wharf gathering outside Reach’s London headquarters told Press Gazette they were “really pleased” and “really proud of everyone” because of a strong turnout of around 35 people at any given time through the morning. The London group was joined by NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet (pictured, below).

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The journalist said the strike had “really unified people” and “brought people together” as they referred to people from different desks such as news, sport, travel and features mixing together on the picket line.

“Honestly this is really gratifying that people have come together like this,” they added.

Reach freelance rates: Letter as journalists on strike
Reach journalists on strike joined by NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet at Canary Wharf on 31 August 2022. Picture: NUJ

NUJ vice president Natasha Hirst, who was on the picket line in Cardiff (pictured, top), told Press Gazette a “solid core” of at least 20 members, mostly young journalists, were there with about 25 to 30 people in total.

They had been given support from the Wales TUC, Cardiff Trades Council and other unions, she said, and were also in sight of the Communication Workers Union strike outside BT which “added to the atmosphere”.

Hirst said: “There’s been a real lift in the mood today and a sense of agency and a recognition from members of the importance of fighting as a collective for fair pay. [Reach CEO] Jim Mullen has hugely underestimated his staff. More new members have signed up during the course of the morning, our strength is building.”

Hirst also said the young journalists striking were particularly galvanised as they “will be most affected by losing pay to strike because their incomes are so low as it is”.

“One trainee was telling me that once the initial novelty of being on a salary wore off he started questioning why he is on such low pay,” she said. “He has a masters, really enjoys his job but really needs better pay. He joined the union within the last two weeks.

“Other discussions on the picket line were highlighting the pressure that members are under to have a social media presence and that takes energy away from the actual journalism and creates a sense of constantly having to be switched on to deal with messages etc. This all creates extra work that they aren’t paid for and adds to the stress of the job.

“A few have mentioned online abuse and trolling they experience. It’s seen as something that comes with the job, even though it shouldn’t be.” Reach last year hired an industry-first online safety editor to help tackle the “endemic” problem of abuse towards its journalists.

Hirst added that the “work to rule” period “will be interesting”, adding: “I think it will highlight for members just how much additional work they do that they are not paid for. Reach management are abusing the goodwill of their staff and completely devaluing and demoralising them in the process.”

Jane Kennedy, an organiser for the NUJ in the northern and Midlands region, told Press Gazette that about 30 to 35 people were at the Liverpool picket line with turnout from about 75% of the local chapel and support from MPs and Unite and the TUC.

“It’s a universal message in terms of the trade union movement,” she said, “so lots of support and people really feeling that.”

Kennedy added of the journalists on her picket line: “People are angry and disappointed and just look at the way the company has treated senior executives and people on the ground and I think it’s really galvanised people.”

Nick McGowan-Lowe, the NUJ’s organiser for Scotland, estimated that around 70 to 80 people had turned up at the picket line in Glasgow which he described as a “really strong turnout”.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Unions Congress gave a speech and a number of politicians also showed their support.

McGowan-Lowe told Press Gazette: “We are hoping that the company will change its mind and see sense and pay a fair wage to the people who create the content that generates a profit for the company.”

In Newcastle, around 20 to 25 Reach staff rallied and heard from speakers from the People’s Assembly and TUC as well as North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll.

One person present at the picket line, who asked to remain anonymous, told Press Gazette: “It was very good humoured and the staff that turned out were determined to continue their action within the context of the soaring cost of living crisis and how much senior managers were awarding themselves.”

In Bristol, striking journalists from across Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire turned out with support from members of Equity, Unite, CWU, South West TUC, Bridgwater TUC, and Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party.

Paul Breeden, treasurer for NUJ Bristol, said: “Passers-by shouted or hooted their support. This is the first time in 40 years there has been a journalist strike on a Bristol newspaper or website and the message seems to be sinking in that it must have been driven by extreme circumstances.

“We’re hearing of Reach journalists forced to use food banks; leaving because their wage doesn’t allow them to start a family; leaving because they’re overworked and undervalued; leaving because even a junior PR job pays more; leaving because they can’t afford to subsidise Reach by paying all the costs of working from home. We heard of sports reporters whose expenses don’t meet the cost of driving hundreds of miles to away games, of journalists frightened of falling behind in their work even when they’re ill. The list goes on.

“But NUJ members at Reach – a big majority – have had enough. The last straw for many was not learning of CEO Jim Mullen’s humungous pay packet, but hearing that he did not deign to turn up to weekend-long negotiations at ACAS that had the potential to end this dispute; and, worse, that he personally refused to sign off on a potential deal.”

At the picket line in Oldham, Greater Manchester, police intervened after a man screamed at journalists striking. According to Newsquest’s Oldham Times, the man reportedly said: “I’m the king of England, I own this land – you’re all sacked” and “you’ve written about me in your newspaper.” Police said he had been taken to hospital for mental health reasons.

A Reach spokesperson: “We greatly value our journalists and are disappointed that, despite our best efforts during a long negotiation process and successful agreements with Unite and the BAJ, we have been unable to reach an agreement with the NUJ.

“Whilst this is not the outcome we would have wished for, 2022 continues to be extremely challenging for the whole publishing sector with reduced demand for advertising and energy inflation driving the cost of newsprint to record levels.

“We therefore remain focused on protecting the interests of all our colleagues and stakeholders, ensuring the group has a sustainable future in the face of an uncertain economic climate.

“We continue to be open to further talks at any time to resolve this dispute and move forward.”

Picture: NUJ

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