Mirror Group journalists plan strike action for Friday

Decision to cut staff by more than a third pushes MGN workers into mass protest

Journalists at Mirror Group Newspapers will stage the first in a series of walk-outs later this week after balloting in favour of industrial action.

The British Association of Journalists has informed management at MGN that its members plan to take part in the first of six two-hour stoppages between 5pm and 7pm on Friday in protest against its decision to cut the size of the staff by more than a third.

If the planned strike action is not called off at the 11th hour, members of the BAJ will become the first national newspaper journalists to strike in almost two-and-a-half years. The last walkout was by staff at Express Newspapers in 2008.

The decision to strike comes after BAJ members working on the Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and The People newspapers voted in favour of action in a re-run strike ballot.

Sixty-one per cent of those who took part in the ballot voted for strike action. The BAJ told its members in a memo that it was "very unsatisfactory" that turnout for the ballot stood at just 57 per cent but despite this the result was "a democratic decision... members are obviously bound in honour to support it".

Of the 146 BAJ members who were sent ballot slips, 84 took part in the vote with 50 voting in favour of action, 33 voting against and one invalid vote.

The BAJ told its members the stoppages had been planned for key production times and would "have a serious impact on the production of the papers and the flow of articles and pictures".

"It is unlikely that any of the titles will be stopped altogether, but scrappy, thinner versions of the real thing will probably upset readers and advertisers more than if the papers do not appear at all," the memo added.

Plans to coordinate strike action with the National Union of Journalists had been dropped as the NUJ had not organised a strike ballot for its 40 members at MGN, the BAJ memo said.

The union reran its strike vote after management at Trinity Mirror - parent company of MGN - threatened to legally challenge the result of an earlier ballot in July alleging "defective aspects" in the process.

The ballot process was set in motion when Trinity Mirror announced plans in June to cut around 200 editorial jobs across its three London-based national newspapers.

Around 60 casuals are expected to be dropped with the remaining 140 cuts coming from the staff journalists - reducing the total editorial workforce from its current level of 554.

Trinity Mirror is proposing to adopt a multimedia newsroom similar to those introduced at its regional newspaper centres and outsource much of the subbing of the three newspapers to the Press Association operation in Howden, Yorkshire.

A Trinity Mirror spokesman, said: "Clearly we are disappointed with the BAJ leadership as this strike will benefit no one, and the majority of our staff are not in favour of this action.

"We appreciate the changes we are making are difficult, however they are absolutely essential if we are to safeguard the future success of our great national newspapers in this multimedia world.

"We owe it to our readers to produce the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People and consequently they will be published as normal."

Oliver Luft writes for the Press Gazette