South Yorks strikers still 'resolute' four weeks on

Four weeks on and there is no sign of a resolution in sight for the indefinite strike called by journalists at the Johnston Press-owned weekly newspapers in South Yorkshire.

And strikers say the company has so far refused to engage in any negotiations about their grievances.

Around 25 journalists are understood to be involved in the strike which affects the Doncaster Free Press, Epworth Bells, Selby Times and South Yorkshire Times.

A handful of non-striking senior staff are understood to be bringing the papers out.

Last week one of the striking editors – Jim Oldfield of the South Yorkshire Times – was told he had been made redundant and given a ‘four-figure’pay-off.

Staff walked out on 15 July in protest at plans to cut 18 jobs across departments which included merging three titles under one editor (instead of three).

Darren Burke, the striker’s spokesman at the Doncaster Free Press, said: “Our Members still feel as resolute as they did on day one.

“Nothing’s changed, we’re still more than happy to sit down with Johnston Press to resolve these issues – it’s the company that is reluctant to talk.

“The longer this goes on the more determined our members will become.

‘We’ve said we are more than happy to sit down round a table with Johnston Press and discuss the problems with the business but they are refusing to hold any negotiations at all.”

Striking Selby Times deputy editor Richard Parker said: “The sense of unity among NUJ branch members, and the overwhelming level of public support, has been astonishing. It convinces us we’re right to take this important stand, and that we must keep fighting for the future of local journalism.”

Epworth Bells reporter Mark Ditchfield said: ‘The quality of papers is declining and we are doing this out of principle. We’re not just thinking of ourselves.”

When asked how journalists are coping with not being paid he said: ‘We went into this with our eyes open. We all know that when you tick that ‘yes’ on the ballot paper that you’re prepared to strike. I’m coping so far.”

Ditchfield said that the sacking of Jim Oldfield had ‘galvanised’staff.

He said: ‘It was the best performing paper in South Yorkshire and this is how the company has rewarded him.”

Oldfield himself told Press Gazette: ‘This is only the second dispute of any note I have been involved in 37 years – so I and other journalists are hardly committed anarchistic company-wreckers.

‘In the modern day, any newspaper company which treats its workforce even decently, on the hell-to-well scale, should have no fear whatever of NUJ membership. Conversely, the union provides proper professional checks and balances which actually help decent employers stay out of trouble.”

He added: ‘The fact is Johnston Press has failed to treat its employees humanely, let alone decently, time and again.”

Johnston Press declined to comment.

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