Friday, 17 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

There is a toxic mix of circumstances which have come together over the last ten years in the media industry to create a worrying growth in damaging stress levels among workers.

A continuing clamour for high levels of profits, trying to maintain serious returns on investment is a starting point. That is a problem in itself as advertising revenues are stretched among a growing broadcast and online presence and of course the expansion of alternative forms of media as many people move to finding their news from other sources.

It has proven impossible to protect profit levels of around 50 per cent return but every effort has been made by publishers to deliver for the shareholders. Of course where revenues fall the deficit is offset by savings, generally identified as redundancies with large and damaging reductions in staff, with newsrooms but to the bone in recent years. On top of that there is also the added dimension of new technology designed to wipe out tiers of the workforce with new production systems which are not the cutting edge promised by the companies flogging these new “efficient tools”.

So as staffing levels are reduced new clunky production systems are introduced and pressure grows on media employers to deliver alternative revenue sources via development of their own online sites, the pressure grows on journalists, photographers and allied workers across newsrooms.

The equation of less staff, problematic equipment, demands to deliver copy and images for online as well as their core news provision has all led to a serious growth in damaging stress across our industry.

The NUJ had no option but to tackle this epidemic in every way possible. We developed the use of the HSE Stress Indicator Tool, an impressively well designed mechanism which in survey form can provide a clear and colourful picture on the state of workers in every newsroom. The questions are not obviously related to stress but subtly come together to show how bad things are in relation to working conditions and poor management.

We sent the surveys to every major chapel (workplace branch) in Scotland and the results were quite frightening, confirming all our fears that stress and related illnesses were a growing problem and an issue that required tackling head on.

The results were sent to all the employers asking them to engage in immediate talks to come up with solutions. Some bosses were sympathetic and suggested a joint approach, others were almost dismissive of stress, suggesting “we are all stressed but it is not always a bad thing.” They obviously hadn’t seen the damage caused to some of their journalists and certainly hadn’t been aware of the worrying increase in members considering themselves suicidal.

We sought political support and the Scottish Affairs Committee summoned the main employers to Westminster and after a searching session issued written demands that they address the problem of stress among staff.

Since then the process described above, seen as managing decline by some people, has continued. The NUJ has developed a life-saving relationship with SALUS and NHS counselling service and raised the awareness of reps and members that they can contact the union for help as soon as they become aware of stress becoming a problem. However, prevention is our main approach and involvement in restructuring in various newsrooms has been a major plank in our strategy to protect our members.

Paul Holleran,
NUJ National Organiser

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