Scottish Industrial News

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

JOURNALISTS at the Greenock Telegraph recently received awards for “successfully illustrating that you can achieve great digital audience growth and strong copy sales” according to their boss, Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker.

Only a few days later the US-owned media group announced to the same journalists, and on 28 other weekly titles, that they would be sacked unless they signed up for new contracts by 13th April.

The terms include a reduced pension scheme, losing a day of annual leave, an increase in the working week from 35 to 37.5 hours and sick pay slashed by one half.

The highly profitable US-based group Newsquest acquired Clyde and Forth Press in May last year for £15.2 million. The daily Greenock Telegraph is the jewel in the crown of the new group.

Calling for a lifting of the ultimatum, and for the company to begin meaningful talks, Dominic Bascombe, National Union of Journalists (NUJ) assistant Scottish organiser, said: “This is a classic case of Newsquest trying to impose their low level terms and conditions on staff despite the fact the company has directly benefited from the hard work and goodwill of our members.

“Newsquest saw the Clyde and Forth Press titles as a bargain to buy because the staff there have maintained the quality of their titles under very difficult circumstances and tough working conditions.”

Other recent victims have been journalists on The Herald Group in Glasgow, where Newsquest have slashed jobs in recent years. An irate member of staff was reported as saying: “This means that over a year, the company gains an extra 130 hours off us for free, when it doesn’t even pay us for the extended hours we already do at the moment just to keep the paper going.”

The latest accounts for Newsquest’s Scottish papers show that they made an operating profit of £11.9 million in 2014 (up from £9.1 million) on a similar turnover of £54 million.

Other workers facing the actions of a predatory multinational are the 131 workers employed at the Müller Milk & Ingredients plant at East Kilbride (the Basildon of the west of Scotland).

In 2012 the German- based company took over the firm Robert Wiseman Dairies (which had been established locally in 1947 before establishing a virtual monopoly over milk supplies in many parts of Scotland) for £279 million.

Fears expressed at the time of the takeover that the plant could be closed have come true, with the company announcing the start of 45-day statutory consultation to end milk processing at the plant and another at Aberdeen (where another 98 jobs are at risk) as they consolidate their production at their plant in Bellshill, Lanarkshire.

Müller then promised that both the headquarters and the dairy would remain in East Kilbride. But now it claims: “Our Scottish dairies are inefficient and costly, which is putting a brake on the innovation.”

Daniel Adams, national officer of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), said: “The staff at Müller in East Kilbride and Aberdeen are understandably devastated by the company’s proposed closure of their sites.

He concluded with a rousing call to arms: “We will now enter into a full consultation process to interrogate the business case and do all we can to save jobs.”

A more robust response came from the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), whose members have been angered by Müller graciously saying 43 farms in the Aberdeen area could continue to supply them — but only if they accept an effective cut of 1.75 pence per litre for the cost of transporting milk south.

The NFUS Milk Committee chair, Graeme Kilpatrick, who spoke to affected producers on Monday in Aberdeen-shire, commented: “Charging Aberdeenshire farmers for the cost of getting milk to Bellshill sets a worrying precedence and one that we do not agree with.

“For dairy farmers transport costs are usually absorbed into the farm-gate price and that is the way it should be”.