The Socialist 7 July 2009 |
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South West Wales Media: Fight for jobs, defend conditions
Union members at South West Wales Media - the parent company of the Evening Post, Llanelli Star and Carmarthen Journal newspapers - are considering taking action in response to a management restructuring plan that will see jobs axed, workload increased by 25%, and shift times for some staff substantially changed.
An NUJ member
Staff at the company are being balloted on industrial action, as part of a campaign of opposition and protest at the cuts, which has won the backing of local AMs, MPs, council leaders and other trade unionists.
The cuts, if they were to go ahead, are not only an attempt to seriously undermine staff working conditions but they are also designed to try and break the growing strength of the recently recognised National Union of Journalists (NUJ) chapel at the company.
The company is undertaking a 30-day consultation process with the NUJ about the restructuring plans, which is due to end on 10 July.
The company, which is a regional subsidiary of the Northcliffe and Daily Mail group, initially said that the plans were because of the current financial situation and the need to make efficiency savings.
However, during the consultation process it has become clear that the company is not prepared to reveal its financial position to the union or the savings it hopes to make.
Instead, union negotiators have been constantly frustrated by a management who are paying lip service to the formalities of consultation and appear to be moving the goalposts at every opportunity during the consultation period.
The company has ruled out accepting voluntary redundancies, undermining its claim that it wishes to avoid or minimise the impact of redundancies. It has been exposed as having another agenda, of increasing workload and changing shift patterns.
At present, seven staff are targeted for redundancies on the production and sports desks - out of a total of 28 staff. As well as reducing the staff by a quarter, the workload will increase by 25%. Remaining staff are expected to process an extra 120 pages a week - up from 400 to 520 a week, as well as managing the company's news websites.
The seven staff slated for redundancy include a disabled member of staff, a mum on maternity leave, a trainee who has had to care for a terminally ill mother who recently died, and perhaps most revealing of one of the company's motives behind all this, two of the three union reps at the company are on the list.
The NUJ won recognition at South West Wales Media only last September, after a bruising two-year battle against a hostile, union-busting employer.
Although the redundancies are only aimed at one section of the 70-plus editorial staff, other journalists see these proposals as being the thin end of a very thick wedge.
The proposals come after an 18-month recruitment freeze which had already seen staff numbers fall by 15%, and a pay freeze imposed in March.
At the same time, the company is proposing to make more than 25% of its staff in all departments redundant by September. The union has been informed by reliable sources that the firm intends to move to a building in the near future that only houses 80 staff - at present more than 200 people are based at the company's head office in Swansea.
NUJ members have had enough. More than half the members of the union's chapel turned up to a recent meeting to discuss a campaign to try and stop the redundancies and changes in working practices.
There has been no history of industrial action at the company for more than 30 years. But, the mood among NUJ members is such that they realise something has to be done.
As one member put it: "if we don't do something, then we have already lost".