A “body swap” of journalists from Fairfax’s metro papers to The Australian Financial Review is on the cards if the company does not meet its target of 150 voluntary editorial redundancies.

The Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance is pushing for Fairfax staffers whose positions are cut to be redeployed to other publications rather than face the spectre of compulsory redundancy.

The union anticipates the movement would be from the metros to the Financial Review Group because that division’s 25-person voluntary redundancy program is already over-subscribed.

“The union has proposed it and the company is amenable to it,” a senior official at the MEAA told Crikey. “It’s part of the mix.” A Fairfax spokesman declined to comment.

The transfer would be done on a case-by-case basis because not all metro staffers have the experience — or desire — to work on a financial daily.

The biggest concern for many Fairfax journalists, however, isn’t being forced to leave — it’s being forced to stay. The MEAA official estimated that 35 employees at The Sydney Morning Herald alone — including junior employees and several well-known senior staff members — had applied for voluntary redundancy since July 16. That number is likely to swell given applications don’t close until August 24.

Several of The Age’s most experienced reporters — including those who have been knocked back previously — have also put up their hands up for the generous exit deal. The Fairfax voluntary redundancy package includes two weeks’ severance pay, leave entitlements and four weeks’ pay for each year of service.

In the 2008 redundancy round, The Age refused to let former foreign correspondent Simon Mann or news editor Patrick Smithers go. Both remain at the paper.

Crikey understands that Fairfax management has drawn up a list of journalists who will not be granted voluntary redundancy because they are too valuable or would be too expensive to pay out.

Names rumoured to be on the “protected species” list are long-serving scribes including SMH political editor Peter Hartcher, economics commentator Ross Gittins and The Age political editor Michelle Grattan. Gittins has worked for the SMH for 34 years, Hartcher has been a Fairfax employee for three decades and Grattan has worked at the company continuously since 1995.

Those who have already had redundancies approved include The Canberra Times‘ science reporter Roslyn Beeby and The Age‘s subediting veteran Tom Ormonde, who worked his last shift on Thursday after two decades at the paper. At the SMH, progressive hero David Marr and education editor Andrew Stevenson have announced their departures over recent weeks.

Peter Fray

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