Eight hundred workers at news giant Fairfax took unprotected strike action for 36 hours on May 30, in a defiant response to a plan to outsource jobs at its regional newspapers. The strike left Fairfax management scrambling to put two days of newspapers together. But after negotiations with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Fairfax management have announced they will go ahead plans to outsource 41 jobs at the Illawarra Mercury, the Newcastle Herald and seven associated community titles to New Zealand.
Fairfax bosses have tried to justify their cost-cutting by pointing to a dent in profits, supposedly caused by the increasing use of online news sources by consumers. Yet they still recorded a $135.7 million dollar profit in the last financial year—and “content generation” and “securing advertising”, the work of staff—made up only 30 per cent of costs. The decision to target staff in the restructure reveals their skewed priorities. There is no reason to accept any job cuts or outsourcing at all.
In Sydney, protesting journalists explained to Solidarity that they had suffered a round of outsourcing last year that saw 80 jobs go and were determined not to let the same happen at other papers. They saw this dispute as a way to draw a line in the sand.
A huge majority voted to go on strike in Sydney—155 out of 158 people at the meeting. Journalists in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra joined the effected workers in their strike. That determination will need to be channelled again to stop Fairfax riding roughshod over its workforce.
MEEA’s acting Federal Secretary has said in response to the cuts, “The company seems to think it can rip the heart out of these papers without consequences.” Fairfax workers have shown their power to create those consequences. The May 30 strike left Fairfax clambering to find a solution and pushed them, at least temporarily, to reconsider their plan. They have not yet pursued any legal action to retrieve fines from the MEAA.
This battle at Fairfax comes in the midst of a round of job losses across the country. Another round of determined strike action can help show that job losses are not a fait accompli and can be fought.