Journalists from the Mirror, the Express and dozens of other newspapers called off a planned strike just hours before it was due to start.
Staff were due to strike on Friday to protest low pay, but postponed industrial action to allow talks to continue.
Parent company Reach had repeatedly insisted there was no way to offer an improvement to the pay deal – but asked to reopen negotiations in the face of the reality that the strike would continue.
The journalists had been offered a 3% pay rise, which they said was not enough to deal with the cost of living crisis. Many junior local reporters from Reach – which also owns news sites such as Manchester Evening News and the Live brand – say they struggle to get by on salaries that can be less than £20,000 a year.
After a long and contentious discussion, the National Union of Journalists agreed to suspend the first day of the strike scheduled for Friday to allow further wage negotiations. A source said the decision to call off the strike was not unanimous and it is now up to the bosses to make a substantial wage offer if they are to avoid further strikes due next week.
Many Reach journalists say they have been radicalized by the company’s hardline attitude to industrial action, which included asking staff to declare whether they would work on strike days. This was interpreted as a way for the company to determine who was a member of the union. Several staff said it would be difficult to rebuild relationships with managers.
A particular bone of contention is the £4million pay package awarded to Reach chief executive Jim Mullen last year. The company insists that because much of that payout was in the form of Reach shares whose value has since plummeted, the sum is actually much smaller.
Like other publishers, Reach is grappling with rising newsprint costs and the prospect of advertising being hit during a recession.
Even the staff of the Express, which has often criticized the unions in its editorials, voted to strike. This led the RMT union to send a message of solidarity to the newspaper’s staff.