John Fry

John Fry meets union members outside the Sheffield Star offices

Credit: NUJ
Johnston Press chief executive John Fry has told the NUJ that he will not consider bringing in conciliation service ACAS to help resolve an indefinite strike at the publisher's South Yorkshire titles.

Following a chapel meeting last week, members of the union called for ACAS, a government-funded service that specialises in mediating industrial disputes, to assist in talks between the union and management.

But in a short face-to-face meeting outside the offices of the Sheffield Star today, Fry told staff: "We prefer to talk directly with our colleagues."

Lawrence Shaw, assistant NUJ organiser for the region, said that Johnston Press has had "ample opportunity to fix up talks, but they haven't".

"We've always made it clear that we are ready to talk with or without ACAS. It's not as if we are the ones who won't bargain.

"But as I understand it, the company's attitude is that they'll only talk if we call off the strike, so we could be at permanent loggerheads.

"It also should not be forgotten that we had to go and confront him, at the Sheffield office, he didn't make an effort to talk to us."

NUJ organiser for the region, Chris Morley, said that it was good that staff had had they opportunity to speak to Fry directly, but claimed that management "still don't seem to grasp what the problems are".

"We need to see something tangible to show that they've grasped what the issues are and are prepared to sit down and have meaningful talks over the dispute.

"And we need to know that they company has understood what the problems are and will act in a good and honourable way in any negotiations.

"It's clear to them now that they have a problem, and that they can't have their journalists on the street, but I still don't think they know what the problem really is."

Morley is due to lead a chapel meeting tonight, to discuss Fry's comments and other developments in the dispute, now in its third week. Staff from five Johnston Press titles in the region – the South Yorkshire Times, Selby Times, Doncaster Free Press, Goole Courier, and Epsworth Bells Times – went out on indefinite strike on 15 July over planned cutbacks in the region.

The cuts include 18 potential editorial redundancies, the closure of the Goole Courier's office, and the scrapping of the editor's role at both the Courier and the Mexborough-based South Yorkshire Times.

Johnston Press continues to refuse to comment on the dispute to the press.

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