The stand-off between Nine Entertainment Company and its newspaper journalists has reached its final hurdle, with a final offer “well-above” Nine’s expectations tabled by management yesterday. Should the offer be rejected at a vote later today, journalists will walk out on both Thursday and Friday.
The offer was put to Nine’s newspaper journalists via the MEAA yesterday by managing director of publishing, James Chessell, before he makes a set of in-person briefings this morning. Union members make up around 90% of staff across its metro titles.
Nine’s improved offer includes a two, rather than one-year agreement, with a 4% increase in the first year for graded journalists (those earning up to $170,000), and a 3.5% increase in year two. The deal would be backdated to the start of July, expiring on 30 June 2024.
Other highlights include an extension of auto pay progression from Grade 4 to Grade 5, as well as the creation and implementation of a freelancer policy. It is understood that extending the automatic pay progression from grade four to grade five is a major sticking point in the updated offer, with this automatic progression taking 24 months.
Chessell made in-person briefings to staff this morning in both Melbourne and Sydney, as he said the ball is now in the court of the journalists to either accept the final offer or proceed with the action.
“From here it is up to you. I know some of you have an expectation that increases in the vicinity of 5% are achievable. Unfortunately, they are not. True compromise means both parties feel like they’ve given a little bit more than they were prepared to give. I can tell you that we are well and truly in this position. But we are putting ourselves in that position in good faith.”
“Clearly the decision of what to do next is up to you. But I ask you to consider how this plays out.”
Last week, MEAA member staff voted to strike in the event an improved offer was not brought to the table by Nine’s management. Union staff are seeking a 5.5% increase in a three-year deal, amongst other details.
A vote will take place at 1.30pm (AEST) today on whether the offer is accepted. If it is rejected, union staff will participate in a walkout on Thursday and Friday, which would be the first since the Fairfax-Nine Merger in 2018.
It is expected that in the event of a strike, management would leverage its deal with AAP to ensure publication of print copies of its titles, as well as online content.
Chessell told Mumbrella’s Publish Conference two weeks ago its deal with the AAP for a six-month trial earlier this year was in part preparing for the likelihood of a walkout with EBA negotiations on the horizon, as he said: “I’m not gonna lie, it gives us cover if there is industrial action.”
Adam Portelli, MEAA media director told Mumbrella this morning: “Members are considering Nine’s improved offer and will meet later today to decide whether they accept this new company position or not.”
In his briefing to staff this morning, Chessell said the offer “confirms journalists at The Australian Financial Review, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, WAToday and The Brisbane Times are among the best paid in the country and strikes a balance between properly rewarding staff in an inflationary environment and anticipating a more challenging 2022/23 financial year”.
“The 4% + 3.5% + $1750 recognition bonus package Nine is offering the vast majority of journalists covered by the EBA is miles above what other highly-profitable, multinational media giants such as News Corp and the Guardian will give to staff on staff in 2022 and 2023 (the MEAA agreed to a 2% increase for News and 2.5% increase for the Guardian in both years).”
“The improved offer underlines our commitment to journalism which includes hiring 50 extra journalists over the past 18 months and backing important public interest journalism with defamation risk.
“As I have said throughout the process – it is critical to balance the interests of the broader Nine group, the considerable cost headwinds facing Publishing and the interests of staff.
“Nine Publishing faces a massive increase in the cost of printing and distributing its newspapers, continued uncertainty over defamation, uncertain economic conditions which could impact consumer behaviour and rising staff costs. I note market analysts are forecasting flat-to-slightly lower earnings growth in 2022/23.
Chessell continued the offer is now “well above” what Nine had anticipated when going into the negotiation process, and is “in excess of what we have budgeted”.
“Going into a volatile 12 months, it puts us in a more difficult precarious position than I would like. To think the coming 12 months will be as rosy as the past 12 months is wishful thinking. This is why this is a final offer.”
He added: “I can’t think of any other newsroom in the country that comes close to offering entry-level journalists a pathway that leads to a 58% pay rise per year over five years. I can’t think of any other newsroom in the country that is offering a 4% pay rise on top of a $1750 bonus for the current financial year. This is a fair offer that reflects the excellent work done by staff but also takes into account the challenges we face.”
“If you choose to decline this offer and start down the path of industrial action, it will only sour things – both with our brand, our readers, and with Nine. Maintaining the excellent subs growth we achieved during the pandemic is going to be more difficult this year and the next for a number of obvious reasons. Don’t make this job more difficult – and therefore put future pay deals at more risk – by taking unnecessary industrial action.”
In its recent financial year earnings, Nine posted a 53% jump in EBITDA on FY2021 figures in its publishing division to $180 million, which the MEAA called a “slap in the face” for journalists at Nine’s metro titles.
Listen to the recent session with James Chessell at the Mumbrella Publish Conference on the Mumbrellacast.