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Newsquest's Herald titles hit by huge walkout in strike over redundancies

20 July 2007 - EPUK

More than 250 staff have today walked out of the offices of the Glasgow-based Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times in the first strike at a major Scottish newspaper in 17 years.

The NUJ-organised strike was called over Newsquest’s insistence on compulsory redundancies in an attempt to cut expenditure at the titles by £3m. Union members had previously voted 74% in favour of strike action.

The strike, which lasts from 3pm on Friday until 3am Sunday, was designed to cause the maximum disruption to the production of all three titles. Another strike is scheduled for next week.

The NUJ said they were “delighted” at the number of staff who have taken part in the strike, and claimed it had left the building “deserted”.

“Only five” staff members still working

The publisher is believed to be looking to make around 90 staff redundant, at least half of which are believed to be among sub-editors. While there are believed to have been a large number of staff who have applied for voluntary redundancy, Newsquest is insisting on that at least some of the job losses must be compulsory.

NUJ Scottish Organiser Paul Holleran accused Newsquest of “selecting fine, experienced journalists for compulsory redundancy when they are aware of a dozen or so others with similar skills are seeking voluntary redundancy deals.”

Following negotiations between the NUJ and the Herald titles, the number of planned compulsory redundancies at the Evening Times has fallen from four to just one, but staff at the titles are understood to be unhappy at budget cuts which they believe will compromise editorial quality.

The strike is believed to have left the three titles with only around five staff members still working. Newsquest still plans to publish the titles, and has outsourced production to another Newsquest title and an unnamed agency, rumoured to be the Press Association.

Regular freelances were told the union would prefer them not to supply the titles, and those who have lost money through turning down work can apply to be compensated by the union’s hardship fund.

“Strikers could be sued”

The Herald group’s managing director, Tim Blott yesterday emailed staff warning them that they would not be paid if they joined the strike, and that they could be sued for damages under civil law under certain circumstances.

“You can lawfully join a picket line as long as the picketing is: connected to a trade dispute which you are involved in, carried out at or near your own workplace, and carried out peacefully”, he wrote. “If any of the above doesn’t apply, an employer may be able to sue an employee and his/her union for damages”

In a statement today, Blott, the son of former full-time NUJ official Eric Blott, said: “We deeply regret the decision of the NUJ to continue its proposed strike even though the number of people facing compulsory redundancy has now dropped to one out of total of 300 editorial staff.”

It was announced today that in September the Herald titles are to ditch its current Mac based QPS production software in favour of PC-based Atex. The move, which is designed to streamline online and print production, is expected to lead to further redundancies among Sub-editors.

Newsquest, the second largest regional UK newspaper publisher bought the titles for £216m in 2003 from SMG. US-based parent group Gannett had turnover of $7.6bn in the most recent year in which accounts are available.

The last strike at a major Scottish newspaper group was the Aberdeen Journals dispute between 1989 and 1990, and the last strike at the Herald was 27 years ago.

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