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Penguin Random House UK forced into climb-down

19 December 2016

The power of authors to influence their publishers was shown this week when Penguin Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing, formed four years ago when Penguin and Random House merged to form the biggest international trade publisher with turnover of £2.4bn, had to climb down after announcing that it had terminated its formal relationship with Unite and the National Union of JournalistsRepresents British journalists and photographers. Has a useful list of links to media resources. site links to a NUJ freelance fees site.

The disagreement related to redundancy rights, as the Penguin part of the company had long had what were thought to be the best agreements around covering staff terms, including redundancy. Penguin Random House were reluctant to reach an agreement to cover the whole company and to extend these terms to the former Random House part of the company (of which the Transworld division in Ealing had no union recognition at all). Many observers were surprised that the company would take such a tough line with their staff.

But authors are harder for publishers to ignore. 140 of them complained in a letter to the company, summed up by children's author Michael Rosen: "Penguin is a large company concerned with the free circulation of ideas, part of what Émile Zola called the ‘republic of letters'. Free trade unions are part of the world which believes in that. If the Penguin company want to be known as flag-bearers within the republic of letters, they should of course allow all their employees to be members of trade unions and to negotiate with union representatives."

Author Alan Gibbons, who organised the letter, said: "When Sir Allen Lane established Penguin, it was part of a democratic impulse to empower people through access to reasonably priced literature. The trade unions are part of the same democratic impulse, giving working people the right to negotiate on equal terms with their employer. To retreat from the idea of collective bargaining is a backward step."

Penguin Random House had to back down and CEO Tom Weldon has subsequently had a meeting with the union representatives which looks likely to lead to a resolution. In the meantime, there's been a surge in union membership - and a certain amount of bad press for the company.

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