Journalists at the Telegraph Group have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike ballot after turning down a pay offer of 3 per cent.
Meanwhile, at Express Newspapers a revised pay offer of 3 per cent (the initial offer was 2.2 per cent) has also been turned down. But talks between the NUJ and management were continuing there this week.
The Telegraph pay row comes as uncertainty surrounds the future of the papers and its parent company, Hollinger International, following the resignation of chairman Lord Black in November.
The company faces the prospect of being broken up, following pressure from institutional investors over controversial multi-million dollar payments made to Black and other board members.
NUJ newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick said: “The Telegraph chapel found the 3 per cent offer unsatisfactory. In the present climate, it isn’t in any way adequate to make up for the money that was withheld when there was a pay freeze in 2001.
“It doesn’t reflect the profitability of the titles and in no way goes to restore some of the pay that was taken away during the period when Lord Black was trousering millions of pounds that he wasn’t apparently entitled to.”
He said 100 out of the Telegraph Group’s 700 journalists attended this week’s chapel meeting and only three were in favour of accepting the offer. The union is legally required to hold a ballot before it can take strike action.
Last year, the Telegraph Group reported a 31 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £39.7m.
Group editorial director Kim Fletcher said pay for journalists at the Telegraph had increased in real terms, even allowing for the pay freeze in 2001. He pointed out that pay awards in 1999, 2000 and 2002 were all well above the retail price index inflation figure.
He said: “I understand why people say they want more money, but they can’t say pay has been moving backwards in real terms – it’s been moving ahead faster than the rate of inflation.”
He added: “I very much hope my colleagues in the union will see that a ballot in favour of industrial action will resolve nothing. This is a good pay offer and we have also moved on a number of other matters.”
Last summer, journalists at The Guardian accepted a pay rise of 4.1 per cent.
At The Observer, journalists are expected to accept a deal on offer of 3.1 per cent plus £1,000 dependent on the company’s performance.
At The Independent, management has yet to respond to an NUJ pay claim of 8 per cent, which is also intended to compensate for a previous pay freeze.
Trinity Mirror is in negotiation with the British Association of Journalist regarding the pay increase for journalists on its national titles.
By Dominic Ponsford