Silly season in more ways than one

August 21, 2020

Normally August would be that period of time where you retreat to a sunny location either at home or abroad to take your mind away from the day job. 

And although many of us will have had the chance to get some time away from our phones, tablets and laptops to enjoy an ice cream or two at the beach, switching off may not have been easy as in previous years. 

Following the announcement of huge job losses planned in Government Communications and news that some private firms are cutting back , the prospect of redundancy hangs in the air for many in the media and communications industry.  

Covid Comms crisis  

Businesses have warned that when furlough support ends mass redundancies are likely.  

And for collective redundancies where more than 20 people are to be put at risk, some businesses have already let the axe fall with the law requiring a 30 to 45-day period to “consult” employees.  

This branch is taking on a record amount of cases and our caseworkers are doing their level best to save jobs and to get the best possible packages for our members.  

However what we are finding in many situations is members who are often isolated, with no collective bargaining or even a chapel to support them in the workplace.  

This experience really exposes the limits of the law in redundancy situations. Trained union caseworkers are skilled at exposing the flaws in HR’s processes and if there is a point of law we can use to the advantage of our members to get a just settlement, we do.  

But what is clear, is that the lawful redundancy processes are skewed in favour of the employer, designed ultimately to facilitate the exit of the employee at risk, into the uncertain world of unemployment.  

The only way to turn the tables in favour of NUJ members is by strengthening our bargaining hand in the workplace.  

Organising is key

I was speaking to a friend who is an RMT union representative on the railways recently. And they told me that a member was sacked for alleged gross misconduct (it was a minor infraction).  

They went to appeal and lost. There was no prospect of an employment tribunal so the union balloted the members in the sacked worker’s bargaining area.  

The overwhelming ‘yes’ vote meant that management immediately re-instated the sacked worker and his job was saved.  

Now the media and communications industry aren’t like the railways. And the mechanics of the workplace are different.  

However, if you are already an NUJ member, ask your colleague in the comms or marketing department to join. Once you have 3 NUJ members in your workplace, you can form a collective unit called a chapel. 

If your colleagues are interested, get in touch with me: jmillingtonjournalist@gmail.com and we will help you set up a chapel and advise you on next steps.

The stronger the collective, the stronger your individual rights will be in the workplace.  

Communications staff are key to the functioning of private businesses and the public sector.  

We must demand our livelihoods and those of our colleagues are protected and that where redundancies are proposed, we must resist employers imposing job losses.  

Hard working communications staff must not pay for the Covid crisis and the only way to ensure that is organising as part of a strong professional union, determined to fight tooth and nail for its members.

John Millington is Chair of the PR and Comms branch and is a trained caseworker. He writes this in a personal capacity.

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