Monday 17 May 2010

Johnston Press strike off after legal challenge: NUJ re-ballots as JP says: 'We don't employ journalists'

A group-wide one day strike planned by the NUJ across Johnston Press for this Wednesday is understood to have been called off following a legal counter attack by the company.
The NUJ plan ran into trouble after lawyers acting for Johnston Press apparently claimed the company, one of the country's biggest regional newspaper publishers, did not directly employ any journalists.
Instead they claimed that the journalists are employed by subsidiaries, like Yorkshire Post Newspapers, which the union should have informed individually about the strike action.
Johnston NUJ members last month voted 70 per cent vote in favour of strike action over what the union claims is Johnston's rushed introduction of a new Atex content management system which it says is costing jobs and harming the editorial quality of the company's newspapers.
The ballot result was:
In favour of strike action: yes, 236 (70 %); no, 101 (30%).
Action short of strike: yes, 296,(88.1%); no, 40 (11.9 %).
Turnout was 65.2 per cent.
The NUJ would not comment today on whether it had been injuncted by Johnston Press or if it was planning another day of action in the future.

Update: However, general secretary Jeremy Dear says in an email to Johnston NUJ members today:

"The NUJ has been forced to call off Wednesday's strike action. As with the recent British Airways strikes and the RMT dispute at Network Rail and dozens of other disputes in recent months faced with the threat of injunctions, legal costs, individual members losing their protection against unfair dismissal and punitive damages being imposed we have been forced to call off Wednesday's strike action and will reballot members.
"Johnston Press ran to the High Court on Friday afternoon to prevent you exercising your democratic right to take industrial action. They spent enormous time and effort putting together a 600-page submission to prove that, despite the JP stamp on your pay slips, on your P60, the JP company handbook you are issued, the policies on the Johnston Press plc intranet on grievance, disciplinary, health and safety and much more you are required to abide by, despite their claims in their annual report, in company bulletins and more that they employ 1900 journalists and more than 7000 employees, that you do not work for Johnston Press. Indeed they claim "they employ no journalists".
"It is of course laughable. You are Johnston Press employees when it suits them, not when it doesn't. Johnston Press decide when you have a pay freeze. They decide your staffing budgets. They decide which technology you will use and when. They have introduced Atex. They make the decisions on your pension. They draw up your contracts, write your employment terms and conditions. Yet they are not your employer. The NUJ balloted more than 550 journalists across Johnston Press plc. Our dispute is not with local managements but with Johnston Press plc."
Dear adds: "It is not a dispute we can walk away from. It is a dispute very much alive. Look out for your new ballot paper. Vote yes - and give your negotiators the strongest hand possible to ensure your views are heard."
  • The email also says: "We will ballot each centre, each chapel. Given the delay the company have forced on it the new ballot will now be bigger. More journalists will take part. Johnston Press members in Scotland will this time join the dispute after the company refused to rule out compulsory job cuts."

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