Journalists working at the Southern Daily Echo, Southampton’s best known local newspaper, were on strike last week in a dispute with management over staff pay and pensions.
Members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) walked out for 48 hours on Tuesday 8 November. Pickets were held outside Southampton Central Library (where the newspaper’s editor, Ian Murray, was present at a Press Complaints Commission event) as well as outside Echo offices in Test Lane, Redbridge.
“The reason we’re taking the action is we just feel that there is no other alternative,” David Brine, Daily Echo NUJ representative told the Wessex Scene. “We’re just trying to force management to come back to the negotiating table with some offer which can end the dispute.”
Having received pay increases below the rate of the Real Price Index (RPI) between 2005 to 2008 and a subsequent pay freeze for two years, Daily Echo staff feel that they cannot accept any further reduction in real wages.
The starting salary for a Daily Echo journalist is just £16,500, with senior reporters earning as little as £22,000.
In contrast, the director of the newspaper’s parent company, Newsquest Media Group, now earns £610,000 a year, having given himself a 21.5% pay rise and an astonishing 250% increase in his pension payments, Daily Echo journalists revealed.
A further 48 hours of strike action is anticipated if management does not resume negotiations.
The dispute at the Southern Daily Echo happened less than one week after NUJ members took two days of completely unconnected industrial action at the BBC.
BBC journalists took national strike action on 5th and 6th November in opposition to management’s plan to change pension arrangements for staff.
93% of NUJ members affected supported industrial action over this issue, which would have forced staff to accept “significantly lower pensions”, according to the Union.
“In the South, the action has been strongly supported” an NUJ representative told the Wessex Scene outside the BBC studio in central Southampton. “People have been angry and upset at what’s happening.” Staff are fearful that pension contributions might not be received on retirement.
Whilst lower-paid staff are bearing the burden of management’s plan to reduce the Corporation’s sizeable pension fund deficit (itself the subject of much controversy), senior BBC executives can expect to receive pensions worth £220,000 a year.
BBC news services were significantly disrupted in 48 hours of coordinated strike action, with pre-recorded news bulletins played instead of live broadcasts and senior managers having to temporarily fill in for staff on strike.
Members of BECTU, a union representing media and entertainment workers, had overwhelmingly supported the NUJ’s action and had not crossed the picket line.
At the time of going to print, the NUJ has withdrawn its intention to hold a further 48 hours of strike action, after BBC management reversed its position and agreed to resume talks.