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December 22, 2017

Newsquest faces fresh strikes as journalists in Darlington back industrial action over pay and workload dispute

By Freddy Mayhew

Journalists at Newsquest’s hub in Darlington, County Durham, have voted in favour of industrial action just days after colleagues in Swindon agreed a two-day strike in the New Year.

The fresh ballot was cast by members of the National Union of Journalists working on the Northern Echo, Darlington and Stockton Times, Durham Times and Advertiser series.

The dispute focuses on “potential compulsory redundancies, unreasonable workloads and proposed contractual changes for bank holiday working”.

Of those balloted, 15 were in favour of strike action, with two votes against and one spoilt or invalid ballot, while 17 supported action short of a strike. A date for the strikes has yet to be set.

In Darlington, three newsdesk positions will be cut down to one under proposals, while one of two copy editor roles working on weekly titles are also under threat, according to the NUJ.

At the Swindon Advertiser, staff plan to be on the picket line on 2 and 3 of January in a dispute over “low and unfair pay”.

Newsquest is set to make 12 staff on the news and production teams redundant across the daily title, the Oxford Mail, Wiltshire Gazette & Herald and the Wiltshire Times.

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The regional publisher, owned by US company Gannett, has previously said it will stop offering extra pay to staff who work on bank holidays or weekends under new money-saving proposals.

Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands senior organiser, said: “Our members at Darlington have shown that they are not prepared to stand by and see their colleagues dismissed, more and more work heaped on them while a few crumbs of recognition for the sacrifice they and their families make on bank holidays are taken away.

“Senior management at Newsquest need to take a long hard look at the damage that has been, and clearly continues to be, wrought on fine titles such as the Northern Echo with strong reputations built up by generations of highly professional journalists.

“Local newspapers are more than just money-making machines – although they continue to do so for the US shareholders who own Newsquest. They and their dwindling staff have been battered and hugely underfunded for so many years that there is a limit to how much they can take.

“We really hope management will take stock of the expressed anger of staff at the Echo and rethink their plans through sensible and reasonable dialogue with the NUJ chapel before the need for any industrial action to take place.”

The Newsquest Darlington NUJ chapel said: “At the end of a year which has seen a small pay rise countered by a decrease in the mileage rate, then followed by a proposal to reduce pay and lieu time given for working bank holidays, and now a re-structure of editorial that will mean the loss of highly-valued, experienced and talented staff, members are angry and disillusioned.”

A Newsquest spokesperson said: “We note that just 15 members of the NUJ employed by Newsquest North-East in Darlington and Durham voted in favour of strike action in the union’s recent ballot of membership.

“This is just a third of our editorial team and we hope that continued dialogue will avoid any action being taken. Regardless of what the union chooses to do, our products will be published as normal in Darlington just as they will be during the strike action at Swindon.”

The NUJ has also condemned Newsquest for its handling of redundancies in the week before Christmas.

Laura Davison, NUJ newspapers organiser, said: “These cuts are cruel and shocking. Members have been dismissed in meetings which lasted less than 10 minutes.

There was no thanks for the work these staff have done, no recognition of their skills and talents, no support offered and no meaningful effort to avoid the redundancies.

“Remaining staff are now just expected to pick up the pieces and get on with it, when morale is in tatters. Newsquest’s editorial director appears to have been given free rein to wreak havoc across newsrooms and this is the upshot. It’s appalling.”

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