Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life journalists to vote on industrial action

NUJ describes the latest offer from the company as ‘derisory’

Negotiations collapsed after the NUJ said INM offered a one per cent pay increase, proposed to eradicate acting up allowances, and demanded all minimum pay levels be removed from the existing collective agreement

Negotiations collapsed after the NUJ said INM offered a one per cent pay increase, proposed to eradicate acting up allowances, and demanded all minimum pay levels be removed from the existing collective agreement

 

Journalists at the Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life newspapers are to vote on industrial action after “the latest derisory offer from the company has prompted the ballot for action”, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said.

A statement from the NUJ on Monday said journalists at the two Independent News and Media (INM) titles in the North had faced “two years of delays and procrastination” and that the union had tried to resolve the dispute by referring the case to the Labour Relations Agency in Belfast.

Negotiations collapsed after the NUJ said INM offered a 1 per cent pay increase, proposed to eradicate acting up allowances, and demanded all minimum pay levels be removed from the existing collective agreement.

The union had lodged a 5 per cent pay claim, backdated to June 2018 and this claim covered both employees and freelance journalists.

NUJ members at the papers have only received a 1 per cent pay increase in 10 years, despite the company being profitable, the NUJ said.

The collective agreement between the union and the company has not been renewed since 2003.

Engagement

Ian McGuinness, NUJ Irish organiser, said: “For nearly two years we have been trying to get the company to engage in a constructive and meaningful way.

“It has procrastinated, delayed and frustrated the talks process. In a last-ditch attempt to try to talk sense into the company on these matters, the NUJ referred the dispute to the Labour Relations Agency for collective conciliation.

“Unfortunately, because of the company’s stance, that attempt has so far failed.”

NUJ members held a chapel (branch) meeting last Friday to discuss the matter. Members of the chapel for both papers voted unanimously to request the NUJ to ballot them on industrial action as they deemed the lack of progress “unacceptable”, according to one insider who did not want to be identified.

“We have not had a pay rise, other than 1 per cent in 2016, in more than 10 years,” the staffer told The Irish Times.

“Members are disgusted by the lack of pay rise and working conditions at both publications. The company needs to show that it appreciates the hard work staff put in.”

Mr McGuinness said: “The message to the company is simple – Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life journalists deserve a pay rise and they should be paid extra when they take on a more senior role.

“The company is profitable and can afford it. It is not too late for INM to recognise the contribution of their workers to the success of the titles and reward them fairly for their work.

The NUJ said it was willing to “engage in further talks at any stage to resolve this escalating dispute”.

Data breaches

Meanwhile, INM chief executive Michael Doorly is due to hold a “town hall” meeting with the newspaper publisher’s staff in Dublin tomorrow to discuss the company’s handling of their private data, including journalists’ emails.

Several INM staff have expressed concern on social media following a story in the Sunday Business Post at the weekend. It reported that several editors at the group allegedly had their hard drives copied in the middle of the night in 2015 without their knowledge, as part of a trawl ordered by management at the time to uncover a leak to another publication.

The Office of the Data Protection Commission says it is looking into the detail of several voluntary disclosures about the company’s handling of staff data. This is in addition to the already widely-reported appointment of High Court inspectors to investigate a range of matters including another alleged data breach.

It is understood that Mr Doorly will speak to INM staff tomorrow afternoon to hear their concerns over the specific allegations that emerged on Sunday.