NUJ to reballot as bosses use legal loophole

A PLANNED strike by journalists has been stalled by a legal technicality – a parallel frustration to the loophole used by British Airways to halt action by its aircrew.

The NUJ has been forced to call off industrial action scheduled to take place across several Johnston Press titles on April 19 and re-ballot 550 members at the group.

Incredibly, Johnston Press ran to the High Court on Friday afternoon to block the planned action, arguing that it doesn’t employ any journalists.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Our members at Johnston Press share the frustration that workers at Network Rail and BA have felt recently, where overwhelming ballot results in favour of strike action have been successfully ruled out of order by managements exploiting the technicalities of the anti-trade union laws.”

Johnston Press spent enormous time and effort putting together a 600-page submission to prove that — despite the JP stamp on the pay slips of staff working on their titles; the JP company handbook issued to all staff; the Johnston Press plc intranet that publishes company-wide procedures including policies on grievance, disciplinary procedure and health and safety; despite the group’s claims in the annual report, in company bulletins and external publications that it employs 1,900 journalists and more than 7,000 employees — that JP “employ no journalists”.

Johnston Press has made this claim, despite making group-wide decisions on the recent pay freeze, pensions, and employment terms and conditions.

Jeremy Dear said: “Johnston Press management’s claim that it employs no journalists would be laughable, did it not have such serious implications for industrial relations in the UK. It’s clearly part of an emerging trend amongst employers to derail democratically agreed industrial action by skilfully exploiting the anti-trade union laws. In this case, by creating a web of subsidiary companies set up as multiple employers, JP management has been able to argue at the High Court that our dispute around group-wide pay and the introduction of a new content management system across the titles is, in fact, a series of identical disputes with JP’s multiple subsidiaries.

“Unfortunately, given 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 re-ballot members.

“Johnston Press plc closed the group-wide pension scheme. Johnston Press plc imposed the group-wide pay freeze. Johnston Press plc imposed the group-wide introduction of the ATEX content management system. Yet Johnston Press plc has worked hard to ensure that under the anti-trade union laws, we are forced to have a dispute not with it, but with each and every one of its wholly owned subsidiaries. It is patently unfair and the law is an ass.”

NUJ reps across Johnston Press are angry the company has put so much effort into challenging the legality of the ballot instead of trying to resolve the issues which give rise to this ongoing dispute — the under-resourcing of newsrooms, the health and safety concerns over ATEX, and more besides.

The NUJ will now re-ballot members in each centre and each chapel. Johnston Press members in Scotland will also be balloted following the company’s refusal to rule out compulsory job cuts. Following the ballots any resultant action will be coordinated across the whole group. In the meantime the NUJ will continue to seek talks and meaningful negotiation with Johnston Press management, and resolve the outstanding and pressing group-wide problems that exist throughout the titles.

This is an edited version of a story on the national NUJ website.

Filed Under: National NUJ

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