Despite talk of “tears on the newsroom floor”,  it is not journalists but the forgotten employees in sales, clerical and administration who have the most to fear from Greg Hywood and Kim Williams’ razor gangs.

Around 20% of the 1900 Fairfax job cuts are expected to come from editorial, 20% from the closure of the company’s Tullamarine and Chullora printing plants and the remaining 60% — that is, 1140 jobs — will come from elsewhere in the company. Management has yet to announce exactly where the axe will fall, but the number of redundancies is so large that almost every aspect of the company’s operations will be affected — from receptionists to IT staff.

Kim Williams’ rationalisation drive at News — which will reduce the number of east coast operating divisions from 19 to five — is almost certain to see back office staff laid off, though he’s been far more coy about the numbers.

Michael Gawenda, a former editor of The Age, admits he’s baffled over how Fairfax will lay off so many employees, but predicted: “A good proportion of sales people will be out the door.”

Former Fairfax sales employees told Crikey they fear for their ex-colleagues — particularly those who specialise in selling print ads. Sales reps who sell display advertising  in Fairfax’s lifestyle supplements — for example the travel, entertainment and food and wine lift-outs — are seen as particularly vulnerable. So are those working in the papers’ ever-dwindling classified adverting departments.

At least the laid off sales people will have one advantage over their editorial comrades: it’ll be easier for them to find another gig.

Wendy Hodges, director of the Next Step Media recruitment agency, says ex-Fairfax sales people will have strong job prospects despite the gloomy advertising market.

“Fairfax is a fabulous brand and good people will be able to find a job,” she said. “There are still print opportunites at ACP, Pacific Mags and News.”

Former Age editor Andrew Jaspan tells Crikey he expects significant job cuts to be achieved by centralising the newspaper’s print and online operations.

“Until now you’ve essentially had two competing companies: Fairfax digital and Fairfax publishing,” he said. “Digital had around 500-600 staff, its own CEO, its own finance office, HR department, accounts department and back office. The same for publishing. There are HR people all over the bloody place.”

Greg Hywood is expected to maintain the so-called “firewall” between Fairfax’s metro and Australian Financial Review Group sales divisions.

Linda White, assistant national secretary of the Australian Services Union, says she has heard that Fairfax plans to close its Sydney call centre, leading to the loss of 80 jobs, but this is yet to be confirmed.

A coalition of five unions representing Fairfax workers will appear before Fair Work Australia today to argue the company breached enterprise bargaining conditions by not consulting with them before announcing the swingeing cuts.

Graeme Kelly, general secretary of the United Services Union, which represents call centre and clerical staff, told Crikey Fairfax has behaved in an “apalling” and “underhanded” way.

“Our members are ringing on an hourly basis asking whether their positions are under threat and if there is a list of targeted staff,” he said. “We wrote to Fairfax in March when there were rumblings and asked them to confirm if there were any job losses coming and we were told there was nothing to worry about.”

Crikey understands workers in Fairfax’s Rural Press stable will be the least affected by the cuts. There’s also little fat to cut in the subediting or production departments given recent decisions to outsource and offshore these tasks.

Fairfax spokesman Brad Hatch did not return Crikey‘s calls this morning.

Peter Fray

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