Journalists across Newsquest are “appalled but also bemused” by its plans to “fire and rehire” staff in Oxford next month.
According to the National Union of Journalists, around 13 employees are due to have their contracts terminated on 12 July in order for the publisher to re-employ them once they have agreed to “worse” terms and conditions.
The termination notices were issued after Oxford Mail and Oxford Times journalists rejected proposals to end time-and-a-half pay for all bank holidays except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
The NUJ Newsquest chapel, comprising Newsquest staff across the UK, said: “Stripping journalists of bank holiday payments in the wake of a year when they have pulled out all the stops to serve their local communities is disgraceful and has piled stress and anxiety onto a newsroom already facing reduced staffing levels and unacceptably long working hours.
“The treatment of staff in Oxford symbolises a failed duty of care to journalists and journalism at the centre. The practice of fire and rehire has been roundly condemned by trade unions and politicians, has no place within Newsquest, and should be banned.”
The chapel asked Newsquest to withdraw the dismissal notices, work with the NUJ to resolve the dispute, and “meaningfully address staffing and workload issues”.
The chapel pointed out that chief executive Henry Faure Walker (pictured) was awarded an MBE this month for services to regional journalism and charity. He said at the time the “real recognition should go to the amazing people that work in local news publishing across the UK”.
The chapel said: “We believe that the actions of Newsquest in Oxford are detrimental and damaging to regional journalism and that Mr Walker should practice ‘charity begins at home’ and immediately end this unethical employment practice in his company.”
Locals and professionals across Oxford – including teachers, firefighters, healthcare workers, taxi drivers and postal workers – have begun showing their support for the journalists, posting photos with the message “Hey! Oxford Mail! Stop bullying your journalists. No fire and rehire!”
Hey @FaureWalker @TobyGranville #Oxford’s #postal #workers, #car workers, #health workers, uni #lecturers, #DWP staff, #firefighters, #taxi #drivers, #shop workers are asking you to take Oxford Mail journalists’ termination of contract notices off the table. #EndFireAndRehire pic.twitter.com/A2L41sBgcn
— Oxford NUJ (@OxfordNUJ) June 28, 2021
Writing in Left Foot Forward, Labour MP Grahame Morris called Newsquest’s plan the “pettiest example of attempted fire and rehire that I have come across to date”.
According to Newsquest figures shared by the NUJ that reportedly showed the ending of bank holiday payments would save “under £200 per bank holiday” Morris, who is chair of the Unite the Union Parliamentary Group, said: “To target workers for the sake of such negligible savings for the company is an insult.”
A Survation poll for the GMB union last month found more than three-quarters of UK adults (76%) think fire and rehire tactics should be banned.
Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ group chapel coordinator, said staff across the company were “appalled but also bemused” that such an “extreme measure” was being taken “for such a small saving”. He called the plan “depressingly mean-spirited”.
“The company is risking its reputation with the local community by deploying disproportionate measures to achieve so little and the fact that this controversial action is being used against hard-working local journalists sullies the award made to the chief executive for his services to regional journalism,” Morley said.
A Newsquest spokesperson declined to comment.
The publisher announced last month it was creating 50 digital journalist jobs, with Oxford among the local newsrooms set to benefit from the £1.5m per year reinvestment.
Newsquest’s subscriptions strategy, with premium subscriber models introduced at about 60 of its news websites last year, is helping it “towards building sustainable newsrooms and sustainable local journalism for many years to come”.
The Oxford Mail is among the most successful for subscribers of the Newsquest websites that launched a metered paywall last year. In print, the title had an average circulation of 6,706 in the second half of 2020 following year-on-year decline of 13% – a better-than-average drop.