industrial action

Strike in Swindon

When pay talks stalled, Advertiser journalists voted to strike. Former FoC Bruno Clements reports


ith just two pay rises in nine years before 2017, it’s no exaggeration to say that we journalists at the Swindon

Advertiser were feeling the pinch. So what makes one of the country’s

worst-paid teams give up two days’ pay to stand on freezing pavements to tell readers and advertisers what Newsquest is doing to one of the UK’s oldest titles? Well, the sense of injustice that a profitable company could ignore the plight of its staff and fail to give ground over anything in a fruitless “negotiation” process were key factors. Swindon rents are some of the fastest rising in the country and reporters struggle to do any better than live in shared accommodation. So when I put the NUJ’s 12-point pay claim for 2017 to management in late 2016, the stakes were high. Sadly, the response to our call for an above- inflation pay rise was “local trading conditions are difficult and there’s no money” despite 2017’s accounts showing an operating profit of about £5 million in the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire region. Some staff in Newsquest centres

including those in Bolton and Newport were receiving rises of about five per cent. Matters improved slightly when, in

August, a below-inflation pay rise of 1.7 per cent was brought in for those paid under £20,000, with 1.5 per cent for those earning more than £20,000. It was not given to those who had worked for less than six months and the mileage rate was cut soon afterwards. The company refused to budge at

ACAS-moderated talks, despite signs that trading profits were to hit £4 million in 2018.

8 | theJournalist Swindon South MP Robert Buckland, second left in front row, joins striking Swindon Advertiser journalists on the picket line. Chapel members unanimously

decided to ballot for a two-day strike. By now the appointment of new editor Peter Gavan had been announced, shortly followed by an “at risk of redundancy” list of three content editors, the news editor and myself as web editor, meaning much more work would land on reporters’ shoulders and put the quality of our title under threat. Come the first strike day and it was a

7.15am start on the picket line. All six reporters were striking, along with three feature writers, the sports editor, the assistant news editor and the entertainments supremo. I was on air with BBC Wiltshire just

after 7.30am being interviewed about the strike and the cuts. Technically, I was not striking as I’d already lost my job despite consistently high digital figures. As the morning went on, local

“ ”

The company refused to budge at ACAS-moderated talks, despite signs that trading profits were to hit £4 million in 2018

councillors, Swindon People’s Assembly representatives and other NUJ members were there. Joining us were a former Newsquest editor and deputy editor, former deputy FoC Chris Humphreys, former FoC Bob Naylor, Di Harris, who chairs the Wiltshire NUJ branch, and Newsquest group chapel coordinator Chris Morley.

As the action got too big to ignore,

the Advertiser’s website ran a one-sided story, trotting out the phrase: “We are of course happy to continue to have meaningful discussions with the NUJ in order to resolve this issue,” while failing to respond to invitations to attend talks. What cheered us was the reception from the public. There were only a few negative comments while some people made a point of talking to us, many sharing our concerns. Despite the cold and rain, everyone stayed cheerful. It definitely helped to have visits from

NUJ reps – and a performance from a local poet. South Swindon MP Robert Buckland stopped by to chat, as did Swindon Labour group leader Jim Grant. We were touched when staff from a café brought chips and someone from the estate agents next door supplied tea. The support from other chapels

meant much. We are grateful to NUJ national organiser Laura Davison for her invaluable backing and turning out on both days.

Staff returned to work to get letters

showing pay deductions so we are especially grateful that donations to the branch exceeded £1,800.


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