On 19 May, journalists at Johnston Press became the latest workers to fall victim of a High Court injunction against planned strike action, on the basis of ballot discrepancies.
Bizarrely Johnston Press, which owns many titles across the UK including the Sheffield Star, managed to convince the court that it employs no journalists, and that to be lawful industrial action needs to be balloted for against each individual subsidiary company. This despite company literature proclaiming that it employs 1,900.
Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said: “Johnston Press management’s claim that it employs no journalists would be laughable did it not have such serious implications for industrial relations in the UK. It’s clearly part of an emerging trend amongst employers to derail democratically-agreed industrial action by skilfully exploiting the anti-trade union laws.”
NUJ members voted overwhelmingly to take strike action; on a 65.2% turnout, 70% voted in favour of a strike, with 88.1% supporting action short of a strike. The union is now in the process of re-balloting all of its members on a company-by-company basis, and plans to co-ordinate action across the whole group.
Johnston Press journalists have struck before in individual workplaces, such as Scarborough.
There is some hope following the recent decision of the High Court to overturn an injunction granted to British Airways to prevent the latest round of cabin crew strikes.
Michelle Stanistreet, deputy general secretary of the NUJ, said: “The court decision earlier this week to frustrate by injunction the democratic strike vote of BA cabin crew - like the court action to stop journalists at Johnston Press from going on strike after they’d voted legally to do so - was a severe attack on the fundamental right to strike.
“Today’s decision in favour of Unite goes some way to restore legal respect for that fundamental right. The TUC and the whole trade union movement must now press to ensure that perverse judgements like those in the BA and Johnston Press cases earlier this week are not repeated.”
The 550 NUJ members in Johnston Press are fighting an industrial dispute over their company’s plans to introduce a new computer system, ATEX, which would make individual journalists responsible for editing content, putting more pressure on them and creating redundancies among sub-editors. The dispute is also challenging a company-wide pay freeze, 12% staff cuts, and changes to the pension plan and employment terms.
Executives at the company refused to link their pay to the pay of their employees, and the chief executive received £1m in 2009.