And the newspaper cuts keep coming.

Today it’s the turn of Fairfax Media which has sacked its casual staff at The Age online and — according to insiders — threatened the editorial quality of its popular website in the process.

Four casuals were laid off yesterday, adding to a further three who have either left or “fallen off the roster” in the last two months.

Staff were told about the cuts in an email from the editor in chief of online at Fairfax Media, Mike van Niekerk today:

Colleagues

Yesterday, I informed everyone in the online team that due to a budget in line with conditions expected in the next financial year we have cut back on casual shifts.

I wanted to let you all know that we will keep our casual producers on the books and at the earliest opportunity when the situation changes we hope to find them available work.

Mike

Remaining staff are not hopeful about an imminent return to work for the casuals and believe the sackings have left the online department at The Age in a “very bad position”.

van Niekerk spoke with the staff in two meetings yesterday. Apparently he explained that Melbourne would be taking the greatest cuts because it had more casual employees than The Sydney Morning Herald.

One insider said van Niekerk told the staff that the decision was out of his hands and that the loss of casuals was the best possible outcome because permanent positions are protected and management had wanted deeper cuts.

But staff are alarmed because the casuals had performed “nuts and bolts stuff, putting the paper online,” meaning there will not be people employed to do the most basic functions.

“This leaves us in a very bad position,” said one Age staff member, who told Crikey that there are “no longer enough people to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.”

Concern over the workload was raised yesterday but people at the meetings said van Niekerk told the staff they would simply have to make do.

Apparently two of the casuals who were laid off yesterday had been lured away from full-time work on an assurance that they would find “plenty of work” at The Age, only to end up with no job at all.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that some of the remaining people who work in online production, compiling indexes and abstracts and turning print stories into online material, may be replaced by technology which does their jobs automatically.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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