The Oxford branch of the NUJ has been teaming up with the NUJ Book branch to highlight issues of concern to members working in the sector. Most recently, we have joined forces to profile how publishers’ responses to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic is impacting on the pay, hours, and job security of our members. This report, which was published in edited form in the June edition of the NUJ Branch News, was compiled by Catherine Brereton, (NEC Books rep job share), Helen Weir (Book branch committee), and Eleanor Connor (Oxford branch committee). The information comes from reports from members. Use of logos does not indicate the information comes from company sources.
There are 700+ NUJ members working in the Books sector. Since the start of the pandemic, Book Branch (600+ members) has seen a boost in attendance at Branch meetings, with remote meeting proving a success.
It’s been good to see new faces. People are obviously worried about their working conditions and jobs and perhaps having an online meeting makes it easier fo rmore to attend. It’s been good to make contact and has enabled us to monitor the situation in publishing.
There have been equality implications of the health crisis and of lockdown: both are disproportionately affecting different groups according to ethnicity, age, gender, disability and other health factors, class, and family/caring responsibilities. Gathering more information about members’ experiences will inform what activists can do to help them.
Through members sharing a wealth of useful information about their experiences, the branch is tracking the response of different employers and the situation on the ground in different workplaces. The branch is tracking issues such as pay cuts, furlough, cuts in hours, holiday – and how these measures are being implemented – as well as workload, health and safety while working from home, working alongside childcare or other caring responsibilities, mental health, and concerns about the future return to work.
Some workplace examples highlight the picture across the publishing industry: Almost all companies have placed at least some staff on furlough and introduced pay cuts of one kind or another.
Pan Macmillan (where there is no union recognition, but a new chapel is currently being formed) is unusual in its decision to put almost no one on furlough, instead opting for a range of staggered voluntary pay cuts (for those earning over £32,000) coupled with a reduction in working hours for everyone (to a 4.5 day week). All staff who were on fixed-term contracts due to expire have had their contracts extended to the end of the year. Regular communication has been kept up about measures being taken and plans for the future. For example, staff have been assured that when lockdown measures are eased there will be no hot-desking and hygiene will be paramount.
PRH (Penguin Random House, recognised – NUJ and Unite joint chapel) has also kept in frequent contact with staff – webinars are held every other week with the CEO. PRH as a whole has agreed to furlough terms suggested by the NUJ with almost no amendments requested. However, although it was originally agreed that furlough would be voluntary, in practice some staff are not being given a choice. A long-planned office move is still going ahead, although no one will be moving into it as yet, and staff have been assured that the office will not open until July at the earliest.
At Hachette (no union recognition), staff being furloughed are mainly at the assistant level and are taking turns. This year’s annual all-staff pay review was cancelled. All furloughed staff are on full pay, and the company gave reassurance that the scheme is a means to preserve jobs, and do not imply that these jobs are less valued by the company.
At Faber (recognised NUJ chapel), around 40% of staff are furloughed at any one time, with departments alternating and adjustments being made every three weeks. Risk assessments are being arranged for home working. Board members have taken pay cuts, and summer hours have been cancelled, along with bonuses and pay increases. There is a feeling that management are being open and transparent in the measures they need to take, including an admission that they need to cut costs as much as possible for survival, but nonetheless morale is suffering and many are feeling overworked. Non-furloughed staff are being awarded one extra day of holiday to compensate for the extra stress.
Other independents like Verso and Pluto (recognised NUJ chapels) are placing many staff members on furlough while instigating scaled pay cuts. The Verso chapel is in the process of achieving recognition and is being treated as de facto recognised, which is proving productive. Despite the financial difficulties Pluto is facing, it has awarded staff a £50 per month pay rise to compensate for any extra equipment people have to purchase for home working.
Bloomsbury (no chapel) has taken various measures, including a staggered pay cut scheme for everyone earning over £30,000 along with a small reduction in working hours. The annual all-staff pay review happened in February just before lockdown. Communication was initially patchy but lately improved, with the introduction of monthly town hall meetings.
At the worst end of the spectrum, Lonely Planet (no chapel) announced in the face of this crisis that it is shutting its London and Melbourne operations almost entirely, including its London-based children’s book publisher. Despite efforts to negotiate some kind of compromise, this is going ahead, with numerous staff including several NUJ members being made redundant.
At Oxford publishers…
Wiley (no recognition) is expecting almost all staff to carry out existing work from home, with discretionary flexibility regarding childcare and other responsibilities falling on individual managers. This is seen as largely successful and the company has foreshadowed intentions to reduce real estate costs internationally with the introduction of more home working, though the implications of this are still unclear.
OUP (derecognised, Unite) have added a clause to the contract for all staff who earn £30,000 or above (full-time equivalent) stating that hours and pay may be cut by up to 20%. This clause can be enforced at any point – management aim to give 2 weeks’ notice but this is not mandatory – and, once implemented, will be in effect until 31st March 2021. Staff are concerned that there has been little discussion of exactly how the measures would be implemented or how this would impact workload and targets, despite the fact that roughly 2/3 of UK employees earn above the £30K threshold.
Taylor & Francis (recognised NUJ chapel) have taken a range of measures in response to the pandemic. All offices were closed towards the end of March, with staff instructed to work from home. Office equipment for home use is available at request, either via delivery or pre-arranged pick-up. T&F Management expect that the majority of staff may be working from home until September, although there are plans in place for the reopening of some offices at reduced capacity. Cost-cutting measures include a hiring-freeze, promotion suspensions, and temporary pay cuts for the Executive Leadership Team. Management have also implemented a resource redeployment programme, which has allowed staff in quieter departments to be temporarily seconded to teams with higher workloads. The Chapel has agreed to a temporary suspension of the right to carry holiday days over in 2021. No staff have been placed on furlough and no proposals have yet been made for wide-scale pay cuts or reductions to working hours. The NUJ workplace reps are in regular contact (virtually) with both members and HR/management.
Redundancies in the sector could be looming. A survey published last month by the Bookseller found that more than half of the UK’s small publishers fear they could be out of business by the autumn; bookshop sales have been severely affected by lockdown. The Bookseller also reported that publishers, such as HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, are exploring staff returning to their offices in autumn.
We need to ensure that members are equipped to face the challenging months ahead – that their health and safety at work is paramount and that we at the NUJ resist any threats to working conditions and to jobs themselves.