Workers at Fairfax newspapers started a week-long strike on 3 May. The decision to walk out was taken in protest at Fairfax Media announcing the abolition of 125 full time equivalent positions across the newspaper network, roughly one-quarter of all newsroom staff.
The announcement is the culmination of a management policy to reduce the editorial budget by $30 million a year. It follows the loss of 120 jobs last year, a cut which prompted a one-day walk-off. Under Fairfax’s plan, workers have seven days to express interest in voluntary redundancies, before forced redundancies begin on 12 May.
The company claims that heavy job losses in its editorial department are “necessary changes” that the business must make in a difficult financial environment for print media. Coming within days of Fairfax executive director Greg Hywood receiving a $2.5 million bonus, these claims ring hollow.
The strike includes Fairfax’s masthead publications, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, and means that striking journalists will not cover the federal budget release. Journalists working on Fairfax’s news website in Queensland, the Brisbane Times, are joining the strike in solidarity, despite the axe not hitting them directly. Staff at the Newcastle Herald and WA Today stopped work overnight.
Red Flag spoke with striking Fairfax employee and Walkley award-winning journalist Ben Schneiders about the strike and its implications.
“Increasingly, large numbers of workers are freelance journalists or outsourced, or on temporary contracts … only a minority are employed on a stable full time basis”, he said. Besides a deteriorating workplace environment, Ben sees the future of quality journalism at stake if management is able to keep slashing journalists’ jobs.
“Fairfax mastheads like the Age and Sydney Morning Herald do reporting that doesn’t get done anywhere else. Other media feed off this reporting … Cutting our resources will reduce original reporting. We might not always yield sexy stories, but we are irreplaceable.”
It was the belief that they were being mistreated and concern that management was undermining their ability to do their jobs that drove Fairfax workers to take their bold stand. “People care a lot about their work”, Ben said. “There is real anger about how management have operated.”
The vote in favour of a strike was carried despite the walk off being “unprotected” industrial action under the Fair Work Act, which proscribes industrial action outside enterprise bargaining and bans solidarity strikes. “We were aware of the risks we were taking but we were prepared to take action anyway”, Ben said.
Fairfax journalists are hoping that the strike will force management to pursue a different course. The workers and their union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, are asking supporters to boycott all Fairfax print, digital and radio outlets for the duration of the strike. A petition to support the strike and oppose the job cuts can also be signed at meaa.org/campaigns/fair-go-fairfax.