Print operations at Trinity Mirror and West Ferry Printers will be unaffected for the time being following Trinity's acquisition of Northern & Shell's publishing assets, although Unite has called for “urgent consultation” over longer-term concerns for workers’ job security.
Last week, Trinity Mirror confirmed it planned to buy Northern & Shell's publishing assets, with the Daily Mirror publisher agreeing to pay £126.7m for N&S chairman Richard Desmond’s family of Express and Star titles. Following completion of the deal Desmond will become a shareholder of Trinity Mirror, but will no longer have direct control of any newspapers.
In response, cross-industry workers’ union Unite welcomed Desmond’s withdrawal, as national officer for the media industry Louisa Bull labelled him “one of the worst and most tight-fisted of the many Fleet Street proprietors”.
Bull spoke with representatives at both Trinity and N&S on Friday (9 February) about the implications of the merger for print workers, and was told that announcements would be forthcoming at a general meeting of shareholders on 27 February.
Bull said she understood that the merged entity will be focused on cost-savings across its editorial and back-office departments, while print operations will for now remain “business as usual”.
However, the potential overlap of printing provided at both Trinity Mirror Watford, and West Ferry Printers in Luton for Northern was highlighted as a cause for concern while plans remain unclear.
“There is no cause for panic so far, but obviously there is nervousness at both sites that comes from not knowing,” said Bull. “We have no visibility on the print side of things so far, though we do have direct access and dialogue with both employers which I hope will assure our members at the facilities.
“I hope to have a clearer picture in the coming days as I continue talks with the two employers and also make a visit to the workers at West Ferry.
“Both employers have said it is a long-term programme, they are focusing on cuts to their white-collar jobs such as journalists for the moment, while print will be business as usual.
“We have strong membership in both companies and have defended their rights and fought for pay rises, which they enjoyed regularly at West Ferry where their white-collar counterparts did not.”
Since the Guardian transitioned from Berliner to tabloid format last month, it has been printed by Trinity Mirror. According to Bull, she believed the publisher “would not want to destabilise” this new arrangement by making employment changes at this stage.
Trinity Mirror employs 170 staff at its Watford site, while according to its 2016 accounts West Ferry employs 81.
When approached by PrintWeek to respond to Bull’s statement, Trinity Mirror declined to comment.
According to the terms of last week's deal, Trinity will pay Northern & Shell an initial cash payment of £47.7m, a deferred cash payment of £59m payable between 2020 and 2023, and £20m of new shares.
It will also make a one-off cash payment of £41.2m to Northern & Shell’s pension schemes and a recovery plan through to 2027 has been agreed with total payments of £29.2m.
The assets Trinity acquired include four national newspaper titles – the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, three celebrity magazines – OK!, New!, and Star, and a 50% joint venture interest in the Irish Daily Star.
Trinity already has five printing sites, which also includes Birmingham, Cardonald, Oldham, and Teesside. Both Trinity and Northern also outsource a large amount of non-newspaper print. At present, OK! magazine is printed at Prinovis in Liverpool, New! and Star are printed at GD Web Offset in Rotherham, and the Express newspaper supplements are printed at YM Group. Trinity Mirror’s newspaper supplements are printed at TSB in Germany.