PRH: Weldon and unions battle it out

PRH: Weldon and unions battle it out

As the fall-out from Penguin Random House’s derecognition of its unions continues, PRH UK c.e.o. Tom Weldon has written to the company’s staff claiming “factual inaccuracies” in the NUJ and Unite’s version of events. He also urged staffers to be aware of all the implications of the unions’ plan to go to the Central Arbitration Committee to get their recognition reinstated.

But the unions have in turn written to Weldon, accusing the company of being “disingenuous” in its description of how it handled the negotiations, and calling for PRH to return to the bargaining table.

Meanwhile authors have also added their voice to the debate, with 140 writers, including Michael Rosen, Meg Rosoff, David Almond, Mary Hoffman, Anthony McGowan, Debi Gliori and Alan Gibbons, signing a statement calling for PRH to reinstate recognition for the unions.

In an email sent to PRH staff earlier today (19th December), Weldon said that “while we completely understand the union has a right to campaign and express their views, there are a number of factual inaccuracies and some important information that we would like to make you aware of.”

Weldon said the company had embarked on negotiations seeking a new house agreement that “would have cemented the relationship between the unions and the company for the future.” He said that the claim that the negotiation was about redundancy terms was “wrong”, and repeated his earlier assertion that there was no proposal to reduce the terms and conditions of any employee. He spelled out: “During the negotiations, the union asked for specific redundancy terms to be included in a new agreement. We did not accept this because this would have meant a broader agreement than the ones that previously existed. At no point did we, the company, propose to reduce the terms and conditions of any employee. Our view was that an agreement could be signed without these new terms included.”

The union is now urging staffers to sign a petition to take to the Central Arbitration Committee to achieve statutory recognition. Weldon warned: “We need to be clear that were this achieved, a statutory agreement would not cover redundancy terms, only pay, hours and holiday. The use of redundancy terms to gain support for this process is misleading." He added: "The Penguin Random House agreement that was being discussed, even without the inclusion of redundancy terms, was more comprehensive than the statutory agreement that would be achieved at the Central Arbitration Committee.”

He “strongly” encouraged staff members to find out more about what a CAC agreement covers, via the government website. “It is really important to be aware that all London colleagues would be legally bound by a CAC agreement and the decisions of union members would determine every employee’s pay, hours and holiday entitlements," he said.  
Weldon also said the unions’ claim that the company had not responded to them was “simply not true.” “In an email to both the national officers of Unite and NUJ dated 15th December we responded and stated that ‘the door always remains open’,” he told staff. “We also met with the unions formally, both with national officers and staff representatives, eight times over more than three months to try to reach agreement. At the end of this, last week, it became clear that our respective positions were incompatible and our discussions were unfortunately becoming increasingly non-productive.”

In a letter to Weldon, also sent today, NUJ and Unite officers Fiona Swarbrick and Louisa Bull did not address the issues raised about the Central Arbitration Committee, but instead focused on PRH’s approach to the negotiations. They asserted that it was indeed on the “question of the removal of the Penguin redundancy terms” that the discussions had stumbled. “On all other aspects we had an agreement on the language or an understanding on what we are intending to get to,” the two wrote. "While [director for strategy, culture and innovation] Neil Morrison was seeking some clarity on the wider pay issues such as maternity and paternity pay, we did not see this as a deal breaker, and believed we would reach agreement if the talks continued."

“Your team served notice without any consultation, and then refused to extend the talks or use the services of Acas to assist us. This is not a positive way to reach an understanding and the company are disingenuous when they say they have left the door open. In fact in the last meeting Fiona Swarbrick suggested that we put your proposals to the membership and we were not even given an extension [to the negotiations] to do this.”

The union officers commented: “Your decision to derecognise your employees with no regard to their wishes is a flashback to the poor industrial relations we saw in the newspaper sector in the 1980s and is not a position we expected from a leading company such as Penguin Random House.” They noted that they had had employees joining both unions over the weekend, adding “and we have been approached by many authors who are equally appalled by your announcement.”

“We still believe that a mutually agreed outcome can be found if the company wish to return to the bargaining table,” they concluded.