A strike by hundreds of journalists in Reach has been postponed after the newspaper’s publisher’s officials offered at the last hour to settle the dispute through a third-party arbitrator.
The company’s editorial staff, which owns the Daily Express and Daily Mirror as well as some of the UK’s biggest regional titles, had planned to stage a strike on Friday as long-running tensions over pay and the charge of work overflow.
The planned strike at Reach, formerly known as Trinity Mirror and with assets including Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail and Liverpool Echo, was to be the first major industrial action by a major UK media group during the cost crisis of life.
However, just hours before the industrial action began, the company said on Thursday it had invited the leaders of the National Union of Journalists to negotiate through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
While Friday’s strike will no longer take place, union officials have warned that industrial action will continue next Wednesday unless there is a breakthrough in the talks.
The dispute comes at a difficult time for Reach managers, who are also trying to manage a sharp rise in newsprint costs and a slowdown in advertising revenue.
The severance of labor relations signals a change in fortune for the company, which last year planned to hire hundreds of reporters in response to readers’ interest in local news.
Shares of Reach rose to their highest level since 2007 last August, buoyed by hopes that the company had found a formula for a successful transition to the digital age with a burgeoning range of free-to-read brands and a consumer data collection strategy.
Since then, his prospects have deteriorated. Reach shares have lost 72% this year. Executives warned last month that the company was facing unprecedented newsprint costs, which jumped 65% in the first half of the year, as well as falling demand from advertisers.
The NUJ, which has more than 1,100 members across all Reach titles, called last December for an 8.5% pay rise. Management retaliated with a 3 per cent offer, which was rejected by the union and led to a strike vote. The union said its members voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the NUJ, said on Thursday the union welcomed the invitation to the talks. The two sides would negotiate in “good faith and with a sense of urgency”, she said.
In a memo to staff, human resources director Julia Warren said: ‘This is a positive step and will allow us time to sit down with the NUJ to hopefully reach an agreement.’
The dispute is the culmination of long-standing concerns over wages in the industry and at Reach in particular. A Daily Express reporter said there had been “several years of anger and frustration” among staff which had “climbed” in recent months as inflation rose.
Although the company has had some high-profile editorial successes – including Mirror scoops on Downing Street’s ‘partygate’ episode – the journalist added that there was widespread concern about the reliance on ” clickbait” and the lack of resources for original reporting.
A £4million pay deal last year for chief executive Jim Mullen, who previously ran Ladbrokes Coral, has contributed to staff discontent, although people close to the business have pointed out that much of the award was in deferred shares and the value of the package cited in its most recent annual report had since deteriorated significantly.
The Daily Mirror would not be hit as hard by a strike as other Reach titles. Journalists are represented there by another union, the British Association of Journalists, which voted in favor of the company’s pay offer.