The NUJ says: this follows a year of job losses, title closures and cuts which have all taken their toll on staff, as a group-wide stress survey has shown. Reps said the latest round was "potentially hazardous to health – both physically and mentally".
The Newsquest November cull has become such a regular feature that it has been given its own festive hashtag of #Scroogequest
Union reps met on Monday 27 November to discuss the situation. Newsquest refuses to consult the union on a national level, despite it being obvious that all its newspapers are controlled centrally by the group. One rep called the latest round of cuts “insane” since it will be impossible for the remaining staff to take on the extra work.
Staff at Darlington have decided to ballot for industrial action and the ballot will start on Thursday 7 December.
In York, where The Press, Gazette & Herald, York Herald and Yorkshire Living are published, three staff jobs are at risk of redundancy, including the popular arts editor, and no editing staff will work on Sundays. At the Bradford Telegraph and Argus the five roles are at risk with three newsdesk jobs to be cut to one, and an edition dropped, while the number of journalists on the Craven Herald and Ilkley Gazette will be reduced from three to two. In south London the staff’s work-to-rule is one year old. A sub-editor and freelance photographer have recently been cut. In Glasgow, several long-serving staff have agreed to leave, with some negotiating freelance contracts with Newsquest. After the editors of The Herald and Evening Times step down in December, Newsquest's flagship titles will be run by a single editor-in-chief, Donald Martin.
Newsquest plans to shut the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard’s office in Cirencester with two editorial roles at risk of redundancy. The company also plans to reduce the number of sports editors working at three sister titles – the Standard, the Gloucestershire Gazette and the Stroud News & Journal – from three to two. Consultations will be completed at the end of the month and the Standard’s office will close at the end of December if the proposals go ahead. Fears that cuts would inevitably follow the sale of the Isle of Wight County Press have proved correct – Newsquest has called for voluntary redundancies four months after it bought out the independent publisher.
The Newsquest NUJ group chapel said: "Reps from around the group met and relayed an appalling array of job cuts in key areas of the newsrooms and arrogant moves to strip away the small recognition staff get for the sacrifices they make for working bank holidays and weekends.
"The cuts are relentless and pitiless and are potentially hazardous to health – both physically and mentally – as the comprehensive NUJ stress survey completed just a few months ago showed.
"We demand that senior managers carry out their legal duties and take a grip on the clear safety concerns that are flashing red throughout the group. They cannot be Pontius Pilate and wash their hands of the implications of their demands to local managers to meet unrealistic financial targets. Our members deserve safe and healthy workplaces where they have the resources to produce quality journalism and have enough pay to support themselves and their families."
Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ group co-ordinator, said: "Newsquest is addicted to cuts in a way that gamblers are to fixed odd betting machines. This is no strategy for the short-term – never mind the long-term. Savage cuts have not worked in the past 10 years, so why do they think it will turn the company’s fortunes around now? We strongly urge senior management to take matters in hand. Give long-suffering staff the break they so desperately need and reverse the strategy into one of investment. With no debt, the company can clearly afford this, but what it can’t afford is a broken and demoralised workforce that is driven into the ground."
The survey, which used a traffic light system to evaluate the levels of stress, took place during the second half of August and September 2017 among Newsquest NUJ members and attracted a strong response with 115 completed surveys.
In a letter relaying the results to Newsquest, Chris Morey said: "I would hope that you recognise the fact that five of the seven categories of ‘stressors’ - demands, managers’ support, relationships, role, and change - were all red – was extremely serious. Even in the remaining two categories – control and peer support – the amber score showed that there was a ‘clear need for improvement’. Of the 32 questions asked, only one, ‘I have a choice in deciding how I do my work’, was scored lower than red or amber."
Anonymous comments from journalists taking part in the survey said:
"I often feel stressed, under pressure and don’t take enough screen breaks, or breaks in general. Even taking holidays, because of lack of staff, is a stressful business. I work very long hours. Because I often work remotely, as they closed our office, I am alone and isolated."
"The lack of organisation, harassment of colleagues and a bullying line-manager have created unprecedented stress levels."
"Pressure of online demands means working at lightning speed for up to 12 hours a day with no real break."
"I am concerned that cracks are appearing in my health that are directly linked to the job."
Chris Morley concluded: "It is a fundamental legal responsibility of management to provide a safe and healthy working environment. It is the NUJ contention that, in many Newsquest centres, the company is at risk of not complying with this legal requirement. To date, we believe the company’s response has not been adequate, particularly as there is a lack of faith that anything positive will be done to address failings locally, given the relentless corporate pressure of cost-cutting and staff reductions."
A Newsquest spokesman said to InPublishing: “We are disappointed that the NUJ has taken this stance. Our proposals are regrettable but form part of our plan to continue to invest in frontline reporters and ensure our titles have a sustainable future.”
Links / further reading: National Union of Journalists