Journalists at the UK’s largest regional news publisher Reach are set to vote on strike action after union members rejected a proposed pay package amid soaring inflation.
The National Union of Journalists has notified Reach that it will ballot its members, which it estimates at a third of the roughly 3,000 editorial staff behind titles such as the Daily Express and Manchester Evening News.
Reach’s NUJ members in June voted to reject a pay offer of 3 per cent, or a minimum £750 pay rise, citing the “escalating cost of living crisis, fuelled by rising inflation on top of historic low pay”.
If members vote to strike they will join swaths of employees across the UK who are demanding higher pay as the country’s cost of living crisis deepens.
Chris Morley, NUJ’s national co-ordinator at Reach, asked how the board expected journalists to continue reporting on the cost of living crisis when “they themselves are made to struggle by their bosses’ indifference to uncompetitive pay”.
“And the same thing applies when important stories of outrageous boardroom excesses — at the expense of their workers — are covered yet the very same thing is happening close to home,” he added.
The union said this would be the first time members across the whole company were balloted.
Reach’s chief executive Jim Mullen was paid more than £4mn in the last financial year, while chief financial officer Simon Fuller received £3.4mn.
The NUJ said Mullen’s salary could have covered annual pay for 104 Reach employees at the company’s median salary of roughly £39,000. The lowest paid journalists at the group make £21,500.
Reach said its priority was to “protect jobs by ensuring the group has a sustainable future in the face of unprecedented newsprint cost inflation and an uncertain economic backdrop” adding that “we greatly value our relationships with our journalists”.
The publisher last year made £79.3mn in operating profit, excluding legal costs relating to its involvement in the historic phone hacking scandal and charges related to the closure of dozens of offices, following the decision last year to have most staff work from home permanently.
In May, it warned demand for advertising dropped below expectations and the company had previously flagged that price hikes in paper and energy were likely to hit profits this year.
Reach’s shares have lost nearly three-quarters of their value from a peak last August, when they hit a 10-year high.
Morley called the ballot for industrial action an “unfortunate landmark” and asked that the company’s management “think more positively about what their journalists bring to the business”.
The balloting process is expected to take four weeks.