Union activity remains low in the media as more job losses are announced across the industry following a continuing advertising slump and falling profits - but more workforces are beginning to stand up to be counted.
Several newspaper and other media titles have announced more cuts are to be made in the industry as it goes through the largest mass cull of reporting staff of the last decade in the face of falling advertising revenues and readership.
Libcom can reveal that well over 1,000 job cuts have been reported across the newspaper industry alone in the last five months1, not including losses from roles not being replaced, which are widespread, and one-off cuts which have not been publicised. Around 50 titles have closed along with 30 regional offices.
This adds to major losses across the broadcasting fold, where it has just been announced that 210 jobs are to go at the BBC on top of the 1,000 redundancies at ITV. The pressure on remaining reporters has been increased by wage freezes and pay offers which have uniformly been below inflation.
Most recently in Liverpool 140 printers and 40 journalists are to be made redundant in a significant downsizing of the entire operation at one of Trinity Media's flagship titles.
They join 23 journalists and more support staff at The Journal, Evening Chronicle, Sunday Sun and associated weeklies in Newcastle, where district offices are to close. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) chapel at the Norwich Evening News and Eastern Daily Press meanwhile have expressed their fears for the future after consultants were brought in by the firm - just months after a similar review saw dozens of jobs go at their sister papers in Suffolk the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star.
The response from workforces has been muted, with only a few offices remaining organised and militant enough to fight the cuts with work-to-rule and strike actions. However there have been some successes, with job cuts being suspended and talks being brought forward on a new content management system to lighten the load of remaining workers after the Daily Record and Sunday Mail in Glasgow severely disrupted paper production by refusing to work beyond contracted hours.
Journalists in Newcastle meanwhile have voted 90% in favour of industrial action in a secret ballot over their job cuts, and Media Wales are balloting. At the BBC's Arabic service in London, an 80% Yes vote for strike action was enough to secure "dramatically" improved terms, including the creation of four new jobs, higher pay, and improved working conditions.
On a national level, at the NUJ an emergency meeting of union reps from across the local newspaper industry this weekend backed plans for a wave of protests and industrial action, with a second national national of action being mooted following the Stand up for Journalism campaign earlier this year. Union reps also pledged to co-ordinate campaigns across workplaces to fight imposed and unwarranted pay freezes.
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Instead of greater investment in quality online content, more localised coverage and strengthened editorial teams, for years the vast profits of local newspapers have been largely shovelled in to shareholders pockets, directors’ pay rises and executive pension pots, amidst reckless borrowing and poor investment decisions.
“Now the very people who plunged the industry in to this crisis by demanding such excessive profits believe the solution is to axe journalists and freeze pay. They were spectacularly wrong in the past and are spectacularly wrong again. It is a false economy to put the ability to deliver scoops, quality content and strong local coverage in jeopardy."
The pledge comes after the NUJ, along with broadcasting union Bectu, backed off over plans to ballot on proposed cuts at ITV, following a deal in which improved redundancy payments was signed. ITV are expected to announce more cuts in the near future, according to industry sources.
The agreement with ITV, signed in mid-November meant employees who had already opted for a voluntary redundancy package were eligible for an additional £1,000 if they left the company immediately. Employees who decided to leave subsequently were given three weeks pay for every year of their employment, capped at £40,000 with the minimum pay out of four weeks.
1 From publicly listed losses at holdthefrontpage.com, around 500 of these are in editorial roles.