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Fairfax Media journalists walk off job for week in response to cuts

Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalists have voted to go on an immediate strike for the next week in response to this morning’s job cuts announcements.

The action, which has seen most journalists walk out in Sydney and Melbourne, follows the company this morning unveiling details of a restructure which will see 125 full-time editorial jobs axed.

The strike brings into question the ability of the company to publish its newspapers in the coming days. It is also likely to be in breach of industrial relations legislation around the notice required for a staff walkout.

The strike will impact on Fairfax Media’s coverage of the Federal Government Budget release next Tuesday evening.

Mumbrella understands this was the intent of the strike, with Fairfax journalists keen to remind the public of the value of its journalism and the value of its political coverage.

Staff have been given a deadline of next Tuesday, May 9 to nominate for a voluntary redundancy.

Fairfax Media staff went on strike in March last year, protesting planned job cuts across news and business in its Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms which would see the equivalent of 12.5% of newsroom positions axed.

At the time, Fairfax Media management said it would dock striking journalists’ pay, describing the industrial action over planned job cuts as “unlawful”.

A Fairfax Media spokesperson said: “We are disappointed in the decision by some of our masthead journalists to take unprotected industrial action for seven days after a month-long consultation period about necessary changes in our Metro Media business.  But it is not the first time we have had industrial action.  As in the previous episodes, we will continue to publish across print and digital as usual.”

Journalists’ union the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance issued the following statement:

In stop-work meetings today, Fairfax editorial staff voted to take industrial action for seven days.

Staff are disgusted at the company’s decision to cut 25 per cent of its journalists as part of $30 million in cost savings. The decision means that 125 full-time equivalent positions will be lost.

The cuts are so deep that the Fairfax mastheads will have to dramatically reduce their reporting of significant areas of Australian life.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “In doing so, the company will be failing its audiences and leaving the journalists who remain behind having to work harder and harder to plug the gaps.”

In resolutions passed at the meetings, the editorial staff:

• rejected the cuts proposed by the company,
• will not accept any forced redundancies,
• want any voluntary rounds to be open for at least three weeks (as opposed to the company’s one week), and
• want senior management to take a 25 per cent pay cut.

Murphy said: “None of the other parts of the Fairfax business are worth anything without the journalism and yet it is the journalism that Fairfax always cuts. The editorial staff are really angry. They think the company has made a terrible decision that is not in the best interests of the company, its audience or its staff.”

Fairfax Media management have condemned the strike as “unlawful industrial action”.

In an email to staff signed by Chris Janz and Sean Alymer, staff were reminded that under the Fairfax Media – Metropolitan Journalists Enterprise Agreement 2016 the strike is unlawful.

“The company is required to deduct employees’ pay for the duration of the industrial action, with a minimum deduction of four hours’ pay,” the email said.

“In addition, the company may consider taking disciplinary action against those employees who participate in any unlawful industrial action, which may include termination of employment. In this regard, there is no distinction between participating in unlawful industrial action and simply not attending for work without a proper reason. We consider both examples to be an unauthorised absence, damaging to your mastheads and a breach of your legal duties to the company.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has asked for details of the unlawful action. The FWO has indicated to the company that it is monitoring the situation and has noted its investigation of the unlawful action last year.”

The email in full:

Dear All

We are aware that following authorised stop work meetings this afternoon, some editorial staff in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth and Brisbane have taken industrial action by not returning to work. This is unlawful industrial action.

In the event of continued unlawful industrial action, we want to make the company’s position very clear.

Any industrial action during the nominal term of the Fairfax Media – Metropolitan Journalists Enterprise Agreement 2016 (i.e. until 30 June 2018) is unlawful.

The company is required to deduct employees’ pay for the duration of the industrial action, with a minimum deduction of four hours’ pay.

In addition, the company may consider taking disciplinary action against those employees who participate in any unlawful industrial action, which may include termination of employment. In this regard, there is no distinction between participating in unlawful industrial action and simply not attending for work without a proper reason. We consider both examples to be an unauthorised absence, damaging to your mastheads and a breach of your legal duties to the company.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has asked for details of the unlawful action. The FWO has indicated to the company that it is monitoring the situation and has noted its investigation of the unlawful action last year.

The FWO has powers to investigate unlawful industrial action, and to prosecute individuals and unions involved in any contraventions, including to seek the imposition of penalties.

Individual employees are free not to participate in industrial action. Irrespective of whether or not you are in an exempt position under the enterprise agreement, you can choose to continue to work during industrial action. Employees should not feel intimidated or pressured into taking illegal industrial action.

We have responsibilities to our audience across print and digital platforms. We are committed to meeting these responsibilities and expect all of our employees to be as well.

As you know this is not the first time we have dealt with this. We will continue to publish across print and digital as usual.

Chris Janz                                                  Sean Aylmer

Managing Director                                     Editorial Director

Australian Metro Publishing                    Australian Metro Publishing

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