Fairfax journalists lock-out threat: Where’s the EPMU?

Fairfax Media journalists at the company’s Australian titles are on strike, but their return to work tomorrow is not certain as the company has threatened to lock them out. The four day strike was in response to the company’s announcement last week that it was mounting a “business improvement” plan that would see more than 500 job cuts to save the company $50 million. Obviously at the expense of jobs and quality journalism.

One of the key principles of the union movement is international solidarity. The journalists’ union in New Zealand, the EPMU should be doing a bit more than it is right now.

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton was sacked for refusing to file his column on Friday and other Fairfax columnists are backing him. This dispute is getting ugly across the Tasman, but it appears that there’s none of that action happening in New Zealand. Why not?

So far, the EPMU has issued one weak media release: Fairfax cuts a blow to democracy.

Fairfax’s proposed redundancies will be a huge blow to already strained newsrooms and to New Zealanders’ democratic right to be properly informed about their country’s major issues says the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

The 160 redundancies were announced today and follow the Australian media giant registering a profit of AU$387 million – a 47% increase on the previous return.

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little says the move will ultimately hurt New Zealand journalism and Fairfax’s bottom line.

“Fairfax claims these cuts are about adapting to new technologies and platforms but the way to deal with these changes is to increase the size of newsrooms and compete on the quality of news.

“Further reducing newsrooms will only mean more of their already overworked journalists will struggle to give properly researched treatment to their stories and as a result their readers will not get the information they need to make informed decisions in their day to day lives.

“That this is happening in an election year is particularly disturbing as this is a time in which people need the best information possible to make important decisions about the future of New Zealand.

“A strong and well resourced fourth estate is a vital part of a functioning democracy but today Fairfax dealt a blow to all New Zealanders.

The EPMU will be taking the issue to its members to discuss its next move.

Well yes, Andrew [Little, EPMU federal secretary] that’s a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. The question you really need to answer is: What are you going to do about it?

The answer, “Issue another media release” is not good enough. In Australia this is a full-blown industrial dispute, our colleagues at Fairfax are under the gun. Solidarity is required, or are the Fairfax journos here going to be left to rot on the vine?

According to the striking journos’ website Fair go, Fairfax this was the situation on Saturday:

Dear Fairfax member,
Members of your union’s negotiating team met with Fairfax management earlier today, following a request from the company. Ruth Pollard, Gerard Noonan, Chris Warren and Claire O’Rourke represented members, and the company sent Lloyd Whish-Wilson, Michael Gill and Greg Moses.

The company told us that they would not allow staff members who are currently on strike to return to work on Monday unless we accepted the collective agreement offer in its current form.
This top-down ultimatum delivered today stands to directly breach undertakings the company made yesterday afternoon in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission not to lock out staff who return to work on Monday.
The company reiterated its ultimatum despite repeated undertakings from myself that no further unprotected action would take place and that staff were prepared to return to work as usual, on Monday morning, and thereafter, with no further bans in place.

Your representatives reminded the company that any action to lock out staff would be unlawful and if they were to exercise their threat, we would pursue the company in the AIRC.

Be prepared for a likely scenario. In earlier disputes, the company delivered letters to people’s homes threatening to lock out. This is an attempt by the company to intimidate you and weaken our campaign.
Remember the sort of lock out threatened is unlawful action and we have set our legal processes in train.
Do not be intimidated by this. Consider how a major media company locking out its own professional staff on its flagship metro mastheads will play out in the public arena.
All members are to meet outside their workplaces at 9.30am on Monday to return to work in accordance with the decision made at last Thursday’s stop work meeting.
And remember to contact your house committee representative or Alliance organiser, or come to tomorrow’s meeting for support.

Chris Warren,
Federal Secretary,
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

There should be some action here too. This is not just a “blow to democracy”, though it is that. It’s a direct attack on the working conditions of journalists. It’s an industrial issue for the entire union movement.

The Australian background

Media Report, ABC radio, background

Striking journos on angry picket lines

EM’s previous post

3 Responses to Fairfax journalists lock-out threat: Where’s the EPMU?

  1. Mike Bowler says:

    Yeah, right, wack into the EPMU.
    It might have escaped your notice but New Zealand labour laws are different to Australia’s.
    If we go on strike and if the union is anywhere near involved, Fairfax gets to sue us, the union and anyone else involved for loss of earnings because of an illegal strike.
    Not sure what the Aussie law is but I’m sure the Fairfax workers there are covered because they are also in dispute over contract talks.
    Now Andrew Little is not stupid and nor are most of his members, which is why Fairfax staff in New Zealand are not on strike (much as some would love to be right now).
    When you attack the union at a time like this you are doing the bosses’ work for them.

  2. Mike, I’m aware of the union laws here and understand that is a real restraint on the right of EPMU members to respond by walking off the job. But I think that some action is called for, above issuing a media release. I’m keen to know what that might be.
    The EPMU is one of the largest unions and it can put some pressure on Fairfax in a number of ways. The first step is to hold meetings of journo members and to launch a membership drive at Fairfax. I think there would be pubic support for action.
    It’s also a shame that the EPMU as a strong supporter of the Labour Party is not doing more to get anti-union laws changed.
    Being critical of the union’s strategy and tactics is not “wack”ing into the EPMU, it’s part of the political debate that has to happen at times like this.

  3. John Drinnan says:

    Last week’s Media column NZ Herald



    Editorial staff are unlikely to comprise a large share of the 100 or so remaining layoffs at Fairfax New Zealand, the company chief executive Joan Withers says.

    Fairfax announced this week that 30 per cent of the 550 job cuts across the group were in editorial and New Zealand made up 160 of them. Withers said the cuts were still being resolved.

    But she said that around 60 were already gone – for projects like combining sub-editing for different newspaper sections across the group – and editorial made up far much less than 30 per cent of the remainder.

    The EPMU’s Little said that Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst had already indicated that there was little room for cuts to Fairfax editorial staffing. Little suggested they were likely to come from printing distribution and advertising

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