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Kevin List: Trouble At T'[NewsPaper] Mill

Trouble At T'[NewsPaper] Mill

THIS weekend, the war begins between two Sunday newspapers destined for the nation’s news stands and New Zealanders’ hearts. Scoop’s KEVIN LIST reports on the controversy surrounding the setting up of the new Herald on Sunday.


Molesworth & Featherston's Sneak Preview Of The Herald On Sunday

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ACT MP Dobs in "Journalist's Journalist"

THREE years ago, ACT MP Deborah Coddington was given one of journalism’s finest accolades – the Qantas Fellowship to Wolfson College, Cambridge. This week Ms Coddington was again causing ripples in journalistic circles – for dobbing in journalist Simon Collins to senior management at the New Zealand Herald.

After the break down of the talks regarding collective agreements between the union and the Herald on Sunday management, Simon Collins [A Herald Journalist, union delegate & founder and editor of Wellington's City Voice newspaper] sent out an email to the columnists that were to contribute to the Herald on Sunday briefing them on the situation.

According to the Engineering and Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) delegate Andrew Little the Herald took “umbrage” at the email and called Mr Collins into a disciplinary meeting.

“They [Herald management] said that they got a copy of what Simon Collins had said through Deborah Coddington. It was an unusual thing to do. No doubt she thought she’d get Simon into trouble,” said Mr Little

Scoop attempted to contact Deborah Coddington to get her side of the story today.

However the besieged ACT MP who almost certainly will be both subject matter as well columnist come Sunday did not reply. (Scoop will insert a response from the MP here should it arrive.)

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New Competition On The Block Poaches Rival's Staff

FOR YEARS INL, then Fairfax, have thought their rivals would never do it - that the lucrative Sunday market would be theirs forever, but they heard the whispers too. Then, there it was - an announcement of a new ''compact-sized'' (i.e. tabloid) Sunday paper.

Now, in an apparent mass exodus from the Sunday Star-Times buildings in Auckland’s Eden Terrace, senior management and some of the big names at the paper have moved en masse to APN’s Sunday headquarters. But then, when the Star-Times’ staff were probably wondering who would turn out the lights, something changed and the exodus stopped.

The new editor hired by the New Zealand Herald’s owners APN to run the Herald on Sunday, Sue Chetwin has hired all staff so far on individual contracts.

Joining Ms Chetwin at the Herald on Sunday are a swag of journalists from the virtually non-union Sunday Star-Times. These include Political Editor Jonathan Milne and Former Assistant Editor Shayne Currie – and moving soon from the Sunday Star-Times will be another senior news journalist as well as at least one other sports journalist.

Also boosting numbers at the Herald on Sunday will be a number of foreign journalists according to Mr Little.

"We have been told there are at least five people coming from overseas. The Herald had told us there will be at least five. One of them is a New Zealand citizen coming back."

The union has asked the Immigration Service to investigate the immigration status of foreign journalists hired to work on the Sunday paper.

When asked to comment on this matter by Scoop, the Immigration Service advised that it could not comment on individual cases.

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APN Chief Executive Says All Employees Are Happy

EARLIER TODAY on Radio New Zealand, APN News Chief Executive Brendan Hopkins played down rumours of industrial ructions when interviewed on Morning Report

"Producing a Sunday paper is very different to producing a daily paper, there are very different sets of circumstances. We've had 40 journalist join us in relation to the Sunday all on individual contracts – all very happy to work in that environment. Some of the people on the daily aren't very happy about that – we take a different view," he said.

Taking a very different view from Mr Hopkins is EPMU representative Andrew Little told Scoop that staff have been informed that they will not be able to join the wider collective, and that workers have been advised not to join a union by Ms Chetwin the Herald on Sunday’s Editor.

Despite Mr Hopkins assertions that all staff are very happy to be on individual contracts Andrew Little points out that staff on the Herald on Sunday had no choice

"Sue Chetwin is used to being an editor in a non-union environment. It's pretty clear from the attitude of their management team that they just don't want the union there. That is not acceptable – people have a right to belong to a union. That is what we are up against, and that is why this issue is taking the path it is taking."

Further enquiries by Scoop discovered that Ms Chetwin was decidedly anti-union whilst Editor of the Herald on Sunday’s main marketplace rival the Sunday Star Times. Scoop has been informed by sources that Ms Chetwin advised them they shouldn’t join the union collective and pointed out that staff on individual contracts could negotiate excellent packages. Some previous staff took this to mean that those on individual contracts would be looked at more favourably.

It is further understood by Scoop that Ms Chetwin advised staff that joining a union would not help an employee progress in their career.

The Industrial Dispute Leads to The Courts

THE HERALD ON SUNDAY originates from the same stable as the New Zealand Herald and bears the same gothic masthead.

However according to the new paper's management the Herald On Sunday is not technically a part of the Herald. As the Herald on Sunday considers it is a separate entity, workers at the newspaper will not be covered by the collective that applies to workers at the daily paper and it is for this reason that a messy legal battle looks set to ensue

But somewhat embarrassingly for the Herald's stand alone argument, political insider Molesworth and Featherston points out in its latest edition that Herald readers were sent an electronic survey that included this question:

"How likely are you to read this Sunday edition of the NZ Herald?"

50,000 Subscribers – Yeah Right!

ALTHOUGH THE MANAGEMENT of the Herald on Sunday seem to be claiming that economically the paper will not be able to break even if workers are able to join the wider Herald collective, APN is trumpeting the fact that the paper will be a huge success, and that it already has 50,000 subscribers.

Scoop: The Herald on Sunday has been putting out releases saying they’ve got more than 50,000 subscribers – how does that equate with the Herald on Sunday stance that they need to save cash?

Andrew Little (EPMU) : The whole thing is that they [APN] are giving away the Herald on Sunday to existing subscribers - so money is being ploughed in to some things. The problem is that the Herald on Sunday tells you they can’t afford certain labour costs – you ask them “well what proportion is this [labour costs] to your total investment in setting up a newspaper?” - they won’t tell us. The problem they’ve got is that after this edition they will need the help and support of the daily Herald journalists, and they’ve done everything they possibly could to piss them off. I don’t know how much help they’re going to get, but it isn’t looking particularly happy for them.

Scoop: So 50,000 Aucklanders haven’t woken up, paid their cash for a year and subscribed to the Herald.

Andrew Little: No – there is no more cash going back in to APN as a result of those subscriptions – it is just people who have signed up to get a free paper.

Mr Little also considers that the union has bent over backwards to assist the start-up of the Herald on Sunday

"The first offer we made was to negotiate salaries to enable them [APN] to control their costs in the start up phase of the paper. Then we offered a concession on the Saturday pay rates – but the Herald on Sunday management rejected that as well. It is not clear to me what is ever going to be good enough," he said.

With negotiations having broken down the next phase of the industrial action will be played out in the courtroom. Even after five years of a Labour led government it would seem that contrary to business opinion, New Zealand is not yet the socialist workers paradise it is sometimes made out to be.

"What APN is showing is that even when there is a reasonably organised bunch of workers, they [APN] still hold the whip hand and require the workers to test their rights legally before they will get around the table," Mr Little said.

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Former NZ Herald EPMU delegate James Gardiner fronts to the media in 2001. Will there be a return to the industrial action seen at the Herald back then?

National MP Wayne Mapp Explains Freedom Of Choice In Industrial Relations

EARLIER THIS WEEK Scoop posed some questions to National Party industrial relations spokesperson Dr Wayne Mapp regarding the situation at the Herald on Sunday.

Unsurprisingly – given the amount of newspaper coverage given to the industrial dispute Dr Mapp was not particularly au fait with the situation. Dr Mapp was however up to play with the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill – a Bill that would in future make it difficult for employers to act in the way the Herald on Sunday management are behaving. (See also… Herald Editorial)

Scoop: What happens if an employer tells a worker they can’t join a wider collective agreement as is happening at the Sunday Herald?

Dr Mapp: I don’t know the detail of that dispute sufficiently well – under the new law an employer will no longer have the right to object simply because they don’t believe in collective agreements. Up until now that wouldn’t be a breach of good faith – under the new law that would be a breach of good faith. It basically strengthens the position of the unions.

Scoop: The current Herald on Sunday dispute seems to be covering that territory.

Dr Mapp: Anything that involves a collective agreement standing alongside individual agreements – this law strengthens the position of the unions in a whole variety of ways.

Scoop: Is it illegal to tell people that want to be in a collective, that they can’t join one ?

Dr Mapp: Well it would be illegal under the new law.

Scoop: What’s the deal if people say – we’d like to join a collective and the employer denies them that right?

Dr Mapp: Well basically the employer wouldn’t be able to object [under the Employment Relations Amendment Bill].

Scoop: Do you think that if they [the employees] were stopped from joining a collective agreement that the employees freedom was being hampered. If someone says “I’d like to join a collective” and the employer says “No we wouldn’t like you to join a collective you won’t be working here”?

Dr Mapp: Well that is a negotiation isn’t it – surely the employer should be able to say that.

Scoop: So your position is that the employer should be able to tell the employee they can’t join a collective agreement

Wayne Mapp: Yes.

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Workers Freedom To Turn Down A Job That Is Not Covered By A Collective Agreement

SCOOP DECIDED to investigate the bargaining power of an unemployed journalist offered a job but told there was no collective agreement and advised against joining a union. Scoop asked the Ministry of Social Development what bargaining power a hypothetical worker (an unemployed journalist) would have should they decide to turn the job down on ethical grounds. The following was their response:

"People receiving an Unemployment Benefit are required by legislation to be available, willing and actively seeking work.

If a job offer is made, people on the unemployment benefit, must take that job if it meets legal requirements i.e. minimum wage, OSH and human rights.

Many work places and many positions are not covered by collective employment agreements and an ethical stance on only working for a workplace that was covered by a collective contract would not be a good nor sufficient enough reason to turn down a job.

There would be nothing to prevent a person in this position from taking the job, joining (or continuing to be a member of) a union and then inviting that union to initiate bargaining for a collective agreement with the new employer."

Scoop also asked if there would be penalties for the hypothetical journalist that turned down the job offer:

"A person could face sanctions or having their benefit cut. Sanctions might include having to report to Work and Income office each day to discuss with case manager what they will be doing today to find work. It depends on an individual's circumstances on what type of sanction they might face but their benefit could be cancelled."

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The Prime Minister Comments On the Industrial Ructions

TWO WEEKS AGO Scoop asked the Prime Minister how far unions had come in nearly five years of a Labour Government when an employer was able to deny skilled employees the chance to join a collective agreement.

“I'd say that's a matter for the union to negotiate. I thought the Engineers Union had quite a strong following among journalists. It's really a question for them to resolve - it is an industrial matter.”

Time, and the courts, will tell.

**** ENDS ****

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