NUJ and the Guardian

The Guardian and the NUJ are bending over backwards to avoid compulsory redundancies at the paper and its Sunday sister title the Observer. Good for them. There is a clamour from some quarters, including the Guardian’s competitors, for the paper to downsize drastically. No wonder. The fact that the paper has enviable editorial resources is one reason it breaks stunning,  world-changing stories like phone-hacking and Wikileaks. It enables the paper to bring down cabinet ministers, as it did recently by asking questions about the relationship between former defence secretary Liam Fox and his best man Adam Werritty. Conquering the online world doesn’t come cheap either. The Guardian was doing that when other newspapers were still questioning the wisdom of setting up websites in the first place. Running a loss-making paper and an expensive website is unsustainable in the long-term, but every news organisation is doing its best to survive while they figure out how best to make cash in a digital era.  The arguments about digital transition are well rehearsed, but noone can believe sacrificing editorial quality will help the Guardian and the Observer prosper. Better to freeze salaries – or maybe even reduce some – than lose staff.

As the email reprinted below shows, union representatives continue to explore other options to avoid job losses. The deadline for applying for voluntary redundancies has effectively been extended. The NUJ is also encouraging staff to think about whether they might reduce their working hours. Another idea the union has mooted is a £100,000 pay cap at the papers. That suggestion, which was aired in meetings with management, is no doubt designed to highlight the fact some executives, including editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, earn enviable salaries. It would be easy to dismiss the pay cap idea as posturing. What would it achieve? After all, virtually every sizeable media organisation – the Guardian and the Observer employ around 1000 people – is run by highly-skilled, highly-paid staff. The amount saved by reducing a handful of salaries, temporarily, to the £100,000 level would depend on how many people earn six-figures, of course. But it may not be high enough to save many jobs. Then again, it would certainly send a powerful message to journalists, many of whom wonder why any of their colleagues at the left-leaning paper should be taking home more than £5,000 a month after tax when its very existence is threatened.  The principal that the better off should shoulder more of the pain is a well-established one, as anyone who regularly reads the paper will attest. Could it be that what is good for the country is also good for the Guardian?

here’s the NUJ email to staff.

If you are still interested in the idea of voluntary redundancy we would like to hear from you. The company has confirmed to us that it will still accept applications.

It may be that the written offer you received earlier this year didn’t quite fit your needs at the time. If you have a suggestion for a different VR arrangement that could be mutually acceptable, it will be considered. Either contact the managing editor’s office directly, or get in touch with a chapel officer if you would like us to make an approach on your behalf.

Similarly, we would like to hear from anyone who wants to reduce their working week – this measure proved to be highly effective the last time there was a major cost-cutting exercise, and we believe it can again play its part as the company looks for savings of £7m in the editorial budget.

As ever, it is the chapel’s position that any reductions in staffing must be done voluntarily. It is also our position that cost-cutting cannot be done at the expense of our journalism, and we’re happy to report that the management regularly expresses the same view

We are talking to the company about potential savings, and they would like to hear any ideas that NUJ members have on the subject.

For example, in line with the principle of voluntarism, we discussed the potential savings of all those members of the editorial staff who earn six-figure salaries agreeing to cap their income at £100,000 a year until the company has resolved its budgetary problems. Again, we’d like to stress this would have to be a voluntary move – we are not in the business of negotiating away our members terms and conditions.

You may well have some thoughts of your own about how the company can save money, particularly within Editorial. If so, please let us know and we will pass them on.

There will be a chapel meeting on 8 November, when we can discuss all this and more. It is likely the company will have tabled some proposals of its own by then. If so, we would need to consider these as well, of course. Meanwhile, we will continue to keep you posted of developments as and when they happen.

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