Union’s negotiating rights have lapsed, claims newspaper MD

FACING a walk-out of staff on Friday, the managing director of the Herald group of newspapers has issued a memo stating that the negotiating rights of the National Union of Journalists have lapsed.

Yesterday, Tim Blott was claiming that the NUJ – which is leading the walk-out following proposed compulsory redundancies of four staff at one of the group’s titles, the Evening Times – had failed to take up an opportunity to prevent the lapsing taking place.

In response, the NUJ says it can demonstrate it tried to arrange meetings to ensure a continuation of relations, and that it was the company, not they, who were unable to attend suggested meeting times.

Says the memo: “The NUJ’s negotiating rights to deal with the Herald & Times Group on behalf of the workforce have now lapsed.

“The situation has arisen through no fault of the company’s and, indeed, we were actively seeking discussions with the NUJ but sadly they failed to take up any of the opportunities to meet following initial talks many months ago.

“We remain surprised given it was the NUJ’s desire to renegotiate the House Agreement [concerning pay and employment conditions] that led to their decision to jointly serve notice with the company on the existing agreement on 21 November last year.”

The memo continues: “Despite the company’s best endeavours, the only meeting the NUJ attended was on February 5 with Evening Times editor, Donald Martin, and the then Head of HR, Tamsin Burns.

“The NUJ were fully aware that, the notice period being six months, the Agreement would expire on 20 May 2007.

“The NUJ has therefore forfeited its role to deal formally with the company on a number of issues, including: Hours, holidays or pay; Health and safety; HR policy consultation; [and] Facilities for trade union representatives.”

Says the NUJ’s Scottish Organiser, Paul Holleran: “This is absolutely bizarre. People are incredulous at this latest move, which is based on delusion – You can’t de-recognise, the law wouldn’t support it.”

The suspicion is that the Herald group knows that the law would support re-recognition but there would be a ‘window’ of some weeks when re-recognition was being applied for. And that, during those few weeks in limbo, with any House Agreement in suspension, the company would force through redundancies it considers necessary to implement a new production system, scheduled for September.

Adds Holleran: “They’ve just given us more work, preparing now for a re-recognition in plenty of time for there to be no break.”

Friday’s walk-out followed a ballot for industrial action by the NUJ, which resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour.

P.S. The production of yesterday’s Evening Times was severely affected by technical problems at the company’s print plant – meaning, for today’s Herald, a no-show for the Society supplement and the sports supplement being integrated into the main paper.