800 workers at news giant Fairfax are on strike, in a defiant response to a plan to outsource jobs at its regional newspapers.

If Fairfax management gets their way, 66 workers at the Illawarra Mercury, the Newcastle Herald and seven associated community titles will face the axe.

Journalists and other workers from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Financial Review, The Canberra Times and The Age in Melbourne have joined the effected workers from the Illawarra Mercury and the Newcastle Herald in the 36-hour strike. This is despite the threat of individual and union fines for taking unprotected strike action.

Staff rallied in Sydney, Melbourne and in Newcastle and the Illawarra today.

At the Sydney rally, journalists explained to Solidarity that they suffered a round of outsourcing last year that saw 80 jobs go, and are determined not to let the same happen at other papers.

That determination is evidenced by the huge majority vote to go on strike in Sydney—155 voted in favour of striking out of 158 people at the meeting.

Marcus Strom, head of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) Sydney Morning Herald House Committee, told the Sydney rally that “workers in Newcastle and the Illawarra were overwhelmed by the support, it means a lot to them.”

Workers at Fairfax have taken snap strike action to defend jobs from outsourcing

Staff are concerned the outsourcing could be extended across the company if management is successful in their plan for these regional papers. They want to draw a line in the sand with this dispute.

Victorian Secretary of the MEAA Louise O’Connor said in Melbourne, “When you cut and cut and cut at editorial as this company has done for the last twenty years, you get to the point where we’re so close to the bone that journalists believe they’re not properly servicing their community.”

Most of today’s Fairfax papers were heavily affected by the strike, which left management scrambling to put the news together. Friday’s papers will also take a hit.

The regional areas will keep the campaign going after the strike ends tomorrow morning, with follow-up actions in Newcastle and the Illawarra on Saturday 2 June.

Jobs massacre

This stand by Fairfax workers comes in the midst of a round of job losses across the country, including more than 2000 due to the collapse of engineering firm Hastie announced this week. The defiance of the Fairfax workers, on top of the recent wins against job cuts at Sydney University, show that job losses are not a fait accompli.

On top of that, it also shows how the threat of fines for illegal industrial action can be confronted by collective action. So far, management has not attempted to involve FairWork Australia or pursue any legal avenues to end the strike.

A small part of the criticism of Fairfax’s plan has focused on the fact that some or all of the outsourced jobs will go to New Zealand. There is no doubt that the outsourcing will affect the quality of the journalism produced as conditions are lowered and editors are removed from the coal face. But nevertheless, it is important to remember it is not New Zealand’s workers that are attacking jobs and conditions, it’s Fairfax management. They want to lower wages and undermine unionised workplaces by outsourcing, something familiar to workers in both Australia and New Zealand.

Fairfax bosses have prepared the ground for their cost-cutting efforts by pointing at a dent in profits 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” made up less than 30 per cent of their costs.

Nevertheless, it is staff livelihoods that they have callously targeted in their restructure plan. But fortunately, the actions of Fairfax staff show they are not going to get away with it that easily.

Amy Thomas

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