NUJ members of Bullivant Media Limited have today (25 August) launched strike action in response to the company’s redundancy plans and new working practices.
The strike is also in response to “months” of journalists being underpaid.
The company runs weekly free newspapers and websites, with titles including the Coventry Observer, Leamington Observer, Rugby Observer, Stratford Observer, Solihull Observer, Redditch Standard, Bromsgrove Standard, Worcester Observer and Evesham Observer.
According to the NUJ, the dispute also concerns non-editorial staff taking on journalistic work from outside the editorial department, which could have a “negative impact on journalistic quality and standards”.
The strike comes as Acas talks between the NUJ and Bullivant Media Limited ended on 21 August, with no agreement reached.
On the same day, Bullivant Media Limited confirmed it would proceed to axe three editorial jobs, including two volunteers and one “strongly contested” compulsory redundancy.
The company initially put five jobs at risk, but negotiations with the NUJ has reduced this number to three.
NUJ members still fear there will be more job cuts in the coming months.
The Bullivant Media NUJ chapel said: “Strike action is a last resort and we continue to invite the company to respond to our reasonable demands for fair pay and decent working practices.
“Working non-furloughed staff, many already on the breadline, have considered using foodbanks after getting to the end of each month and discovering they have been underpaid, or there has been a 50 per cent deduction from their wages.”
It added: “We understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and the media industry, but staff have been left in the dark and out of pocket.
“At the same time the company has demanded more journalistic output and staff have gone without annual leave and there are health and safety concerns with a small, hard working team being pushed beyond their limit. “
Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands senior organiser, said: “It is with huge reluctance that our members take strike action – in the middle of a pandemic. But the issues that are core to them as professional journalists have not been properly addressed over a long period.
“And they have the right to live without the fear of being forced out of their jobs or not being paid what they are owed.”
He added: “We have had many hours of talks with the company through Acas but the key issues for NUJ members have not been resolved.
“We remain ready to seek a positive way forward to give this company more chances to succeed with the right working practices.”