Journalists banned from meeting in newspaper office

NUJ members working for Newsquest Cumbria in Carlisle are today meeting in the local council offices after bosses banned them from meeting in their own workplace.

Carlisle city council leader Colin Glover has agreed that the journalists could meet at the authority’s civic centre building after the company imposed a ban on NUJ members holding union meetings at its HQ in Dalston Road, Carlisle.

This ends the decades of cooperation that existed between the Carlisle NUJ chapel and the company, formerly Cumbrian Newspapers Ltd.

Chapel members have expressed profound disappointment over this decision, which members consider to be an aggressive attitude to the union. In the past, managers have always treated the chapel with respect and consideration, and willingly accommodated all NUJ meetings at the firm’s large Dalston Road office.

The chapel had lodged a 5% pay claim; an attempt to reverse years of pay erosion, which has reduced earnings in real terms by around 20 – 25%. For eight out of the past 12 years, the Carlisle journalists have seen no rise in their pay.

The firm’s senior management confirmed last week that it intends to continue this pay freeze, despite the most recent published accounts for the Cumbria-based business showing a healthy profit of more than £1m and reserve funds of more than £5m.

These figures do not reflect the hundreds of thousands of pounds in savings achieved through a rolling programme of redundancies, which have left the loyal staff who have remained with the company under more pressure than ever.

A spokesperson for chapel said: “The message our members are taking from this decision on pay is depressingly clear: Newsquest does not value its journalists in Cumbria. Any journalist who joins this company should expect a future of continuous pay erosion. In recent years, our journalists have taken on ever more responsibility for diminishing reward. The net result has been a steady and continuous loss of our most experienced local journalists.

“On this evidence, we can only conclude that Newsquest Cumbria in the long term is likely to be staffed primarily by transient, overworked, underpaid, journalists, who are either trainees or recently qualified. This will clearly help the firm to keep its costs down, but it will not secure a safe, viable business for the future.

“Driving away our most experienced journalists is bad for local journalism.  This latest pay freeze – and the decision to ban all NUJ meetings in a building with more than enough empty rooms – shows clearly that the new owners of this long-established media company do not value journalists, nor journalism.

“Rewarding its journalists seems to be the last item on this firm’s list of spending priorities. By contrast, the current administration of Carlisle city council has signalled that it does value its local journalists. The Carlisle NUJ chapel wishes to put on record its appreciation of the support for the chapel shown by Mr Glover, who was happy to provide a room for our meeting.”

At the meeting, chapel members will be asked to consider their response to the company’s decision to continue with its pay freeze.

Newsquest Media, the parent company of Newsquest Cumbria, last month (September) reported that its total bill for directors in 2017 was £901,000, up by 8.4 per cent, which included an increase in performance related payments of 30 per cent to £300,000. Share options to executives more than doubled in a year to £1.4m. The highest paid director’s pay was increased from £480,000 to £526,000 – excluding share options – a rise of 9.6 per cent.  Far less than £46,000 would be required to increase the salaries of journalists at The Cumberland News by the 5 per cent they are asking for.

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