Arbitrators have ruled in favour of journalists at PA Media who have been battling for union recognition.
The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), an independent body with statutory powers, said management at PA should sit down with the National Union of Journalists chapel to work out the scope of a potential collective bargaining unit.
It decided that “on the balance of probabilities” a majority of those in the proposed bargaining unit would be likely to support recognition of the NUJ, which has had a chapel at PA since 2021, to negotiate on their behalf.
The NUJ described the ruling as a “significant step forward” in their work towards staff having a “real say” on fairer pay and conditions.
A PA Media spokesperson told Press Gazette: “At PA Media we actively consult with all editorial staff on business decisions and encourage widespread engagement to promote a positive, inclusive working environment.
“We value our employees and their views and will respect this process but our position remains that union representation is unnecessary.”
PA Media declined to voluntarily recognise the NUJ chapel in July last year, so the union took its bid for statutory recognition of the proposed bargaining unit to the CAC.
The NUJ said its proposed bargaining unit comprised editorial staff that ultimately report to editor-in-chief Peter Clifton, barring those in management roles..
The union said PA Media had 311 workers in the proposed bargaining unit, but the company said there were 287 workers in this group. The number will be confirmed in a membership check at a later date.
The NUJ said it had 111 union members in the proposed bargaining unit, making a membership level of at least 39%.
The union submitted a petition signed by 166 people, of whom 132 were in the proposed bargaining unit, saying they supported the recognition application and wanted the NUJ to collectively bargain for them. This means 46% of the proposed unit put their name to the petition.
Of those 132, 100 were members of the union (35% of the proposed bargaining unit). Of the 11 union members that did not vote, the CAC said it would be “reasonable to assume… they would be supportive of the union’s application for recognition” because they were signed-up members.
A union can apply for recognition if it has at least 10% membership within the proposed bargaining unit. A majority – at least 51% – of employees in a bargaining unit is then required to demonstrate that they favour recognition.
The CAC panel decided “on the basis of the evidence before it… that, on the balance of probabilities, a majority of the workers in the proposed bargaining unit would be likely to favour recognition of the union as entitled to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of the bargaining unit…”
A PA chapel spokesperson said: “This is a momentous occasion and we are delighted all the hard work has paid off to enable us to reach this critical point in our journey towards a fairer workplace.
“We believe union recognition and the establishment of a recognised bargaining unit is the only way for hundreds of PA editorial staff working across the UK to have a real say on pay and other important issues.
“While the CAC finding this is a very welcome step, the hard work has just begun and we will need everyone’s support to get over the next hurdle.”
The company had told the CAC it did not agree with the number of workers in the proposed unit. It also claimed that the proposal would not work because workers are spread out “in small fragmented units” in different locations and on different rates of pay.
It also argued that it had a “good industrial relationship” with its editorial employees and had seen no evidence that the majority of them would favour union recognition. According to the CAC decision, the company had mentioned “open communication”, “monthly content meetings” and “annual editorial drop-in surgeries”.
Press Gazette understands the conversation within PA Media was sparked by a temporary pay cut of up to 10% imposed on staff near the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (but later paid back). Other media companies made similar pay cuts to mitigate the short-term effects of the crisis.
PA Media gave staff a 6% pay rise in 2022 as well as a one-off cost of living payment of £350 to staff making £30,000 or less a year.
The next steps involve delegates from the chapel and PA management meeting to negotiate an agreement on the scope of the proposed bargaining unit.
The NUJ said the chapel would also launch a “Real Say, Better Pay” campaign to highlight the benefits of collective bargaining and union membership to staff.
The development at PA Media follows a spate of high-profile union actions in the UK and US.
In the past 18 months strikes over pay deals and redundancy proposals have been held by journalists at Reach, National World and the BBC in the UK. In the US, journalists at Conde Nast and the Los Angeles Times have staged 24-hour walkouts in the past week alone, with the Washington Post picketing in December.
In April last year New Statesman Ltd and New Statesman Media Group (which owns Press Gazette) agreed to voluntarily recognise the NUJ and work on a recognition agreement about the union’s scope.
Vice UK journalists won union recognition after months of negotiations in 2019 and subsequently used it to try to ask the company for a four-day working week.
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