Journalists at Newsquest’s south London hub have voted in favour of a strike and industrial action short of a strike, the National Union of Journalists has announced.
The ballot comes just days after the company announced that 27 out of 29 members of editorial staff at the Sutton office, which produces eight local titles, have been placed at risk of redundancy as 11 jobs are cut.
The three-week ballot closed on Friday, with 71 per cent of NUJ union members who voted backing strike action while 81 per cent backed action short of a strike.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Instead of trying to resolve a serious dispute, Newsquest have reacted with plans that will trash what is left of their local titles in London.
“How can they pretend that these local newspapers would have any credible future if they continue down this path?
“The public and political outpouring of shock and anger at this announcement has been widespread, and it shows that London communities are not going to stand by while an axe is taken to valued local papers.
“Newsquest need to step back from this decision, halt this ill-thought out cuts programme, and engage with their staff and the NUJ.”
Journalists were balloted over inadequate staffing levels, excessive workloads, reduced quality of newspapers, the health and safety of employees and pay rates.
Newsquest is cutting four reporters, two content editors, three sub-editors, an editorial assistant and the deputy managing editor by mid-October, according to the NUJ.
If the cuts go ahead the NUJ said it will leave 12 reporters and four content editors producing 11 newspapers and eight websites.
The ongoing issues at Newsquest south London have caught the attention of fellow union members at the Financial Times, who agreed to support striking journalists with a hardship fund.
Local politicians have also spoken out against the move.
An NUJ chapel spokesman said: “This ballot result shows members are more than up for the fight to not only save jobs, but to boost investment in our newsroom.
“If the company expects to implement these cuts with little resistance it’s in for a nasty surprise.
“We also question the timing of the announcement that 11 members of staff will be made redundant – and all bar two members of staff could lose their jobs.
“It smacks of cynicism and underhanded tactics. Almost all ballot papers were in the post before Wednesday 7 September. We couldn’t react to the news, because it was past our deadline to get our votes in the post.
“Clearly they are either treating this dispute with a complete lack of the respect it deserves, or they’re running scared – or both.”
A Newsquest spokesperson told Press Gazette: “We are disappointed that the union members have taken this stance.
“We remain fully committed to our free newspaper portfolio in South London, but it needs to have a cost base that is sustainable.
“Clearly it is regrettable that this restructuring puts a number of roles at risk of redundancy, but we are doing this to ensure that the South London business has a credible future.”