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Union demands ‘meaningful guarantees’ over futures of Johnston Press staff

UK News | Published:

The NUJ said there were ‘significant concerns’ over the long-term intentions of any new owners.

The Yorkshire Post

Union bosses are calling for jobs and newspaper titles to be protected as publisher Johnston Press enters administration.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for “meaningful guarantees” for the company’s staff following the announcement of the move on Friday.

The publisher is seeking approval to be sold to a newly-incorporated group of companies controlled by creditors.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet welcomed commitments from company managers to avoid job losses and protect staff contracts, but said there were “significant concerns” over the long-term intentions of any new owners.

She said: “We want meaningful guarantees on the future and integrity of these titles and the livelihoods of staff, and a commitment that this is not a transition leading to a carve-up of the group motivated by asset-stripping rather than a commitment to journalism and publishing.”

As part of the administration process, 250 employees in the defined benefit pension scheme will see future payments affected by the restructure, in line with pension protection fund (PPF) payment rules.

“Forcing the pension scheme into the PPF is a terrible blow for all of those members of the scheme and their future retirement plans, whilst the new owners are rewarded with a company free of its responsibilities and obligations to its pension fund,” Ms Stanistreet said.

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One of Britain’s biggest publishers, Johnston Press has more than 200 titles in print and online, including the i, The Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman.

The company had been looking at ways to refinance £220 million of debt which is due to be repaid in June next year.

Speculation that the publisher might be sold had been growing since it announced the strategic review in March 2017.

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However, in a statement released on Friday Johnston Press said that despite “considerable interest” in the company, it had not received high enough offers.

The board concluded that the company’s shares no longer held any value.

In an email sent to staff, chief executive David King sought to reassure employees of a “brighter future” for the company.

He explained that at its peak the publisher’s debt reached £793 million and that colleagues had worked “incredibly hard” to reduce it against a “relentlessly tough market backdrop”.

Staff were told “operations will continue uninterrupted”, with newspapers and websites being published as usual.

They were also told they would continue to be paid and should turn up to work as normal, with their contracts to be transferred to the new company.

Reacting to the news, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, formerly the culture secretary, tweeted it was “very concerning”.

“Makes stark reality of the intense pressure on the press,” he added.

Johnston will be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange as part of the process on Monday, when further talks will also be held with the NUJ.

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