What The Papers Won't Let NUJ Say
UK local newspaper giant tries to prevent new employment rights
5th August 2000 / Squall Download 6, Sept-Oct 2000, pg. 10.
A British newspaper giant has warned its staff not to take advantage of recent legislation allowing more trade union representation.
In a memo to staff entitled 'Don't turn back the clock', the managing director of Bath, Mid Somerset and Cleveden Newspapers, Heather Wozniac has listed ten reasons "why trade union recognition would not be welcome".
Under the Employment Relations Act which became law on June 6, union recognition becomes automatic if 50 per cent plus one members of a bargaining unit, of any scale, vote for it. The law also improves terms for part time staff, parental leave and unfair dismissal.
"The only [job] security any of us has is in the strength of the company, the shareholders support, our own ability and willingness to be flexible," says Wozniac's document. It goes on to bury the "misconception" that "Unions help resolve disputes" warning staff that representation could slow procedures down and that "the relationship everyone has with his or her manager is important and more often than not fundamental in resolving issues". Other revelations include the Union's "agenda" to gain more members to get money to pay officials and can fine, suspend and expel members for not turning up to meetings. Jeremy Dear, national organiser for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said he has fifty versions of the same document from every British paper owned by the Northcliffe group, to which these papers belong. Others in the region include nearly all of Bristol, Gloucester and Exeter's print media, the Cornish Guardian and the Torquay Herald Express. Nationally Northcliffe control publishing (dailies, weeklies and freesheets) in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Notts, Hull, South Wales, Grimsby and beyond. Northcliffe also hold major radio and cable TV interests. The company is part of the Daily Mail and General Trust plc. which has an annual turnover of over £1bn, and includes London's Evening Standard and Metro newspapers.
"This is a deliberate attempt to intimidate people," says Dear. "So many things in the leaflet are just a lie. By law, we cannot punish people for not attending meetings, unlike a golf club or Masonic lodge. We have numerous examples where we have improved terms and conditions."
The NUJ has responded with its own document which dismisses Northcliffes' allusions that membership could harm careers, citing BBC director Greg Dyke and Channel Four's Jon Snow as former active members. "Why does only one national newspaper have seven weeks holiday, an average wage of £44,000, a nine day fortnight and no redundancy policy. Because 97 per cent of its staff are union members," it says.
Recognition claims have been submitted to three Northcliffe titles. All have been refused.
Wozniac chose not to speak to SQUALL. Dear says that since Northcliffe issued the documents the NUJ recruitment of staff on their publications has increased significantly.