* Journalists walkout for two-hour meeting
* NUJ says management makes “smoke and mirrors” offer
* FT has increased profits, circulation
LONDON, March 13 (Reuters) - Journalists at Pearson’s Financial Times stopped work for two hours on Tuesday and passed a vote of no confidence in management after talks to resolve a pay dispute broke down, the FT and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said.
The newspaper has offered a pay rise of 2 to 2.5 percent for all editorial staff with an extra 1 percent for merit, plus a bonus. The union argues that the total budget for pay increases should be distributed more evenly.
About 150 journalists walked out for a mandatory meeting between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., the NUJ said, at which they passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in FT management for “contempt shown to staff in pay negotiations”.
The union plans a similar, three-hour action next week unless management agrees to arbitration of their dispute by ACAS, a government body that specialises in industrial relations, Deputy General Secretary Barry Fitzpatrick said.
“This is a smoke-and-mirrors offer,” he told Reuters. “Once you get above the 2 percent, no one really knows how it’s going to be distributed.”
He added that the structure of the offer was not in line with the newspaper’s editorial line of criticising fat cats and banker bonuses.
The Financial Times issued a statement in which it called the action “unwarranted” and “unreasonable”, and said its offer compared favourably with the rest of the industry.
“The Financial Times has continued to invest in its editorial operations and has avoided any compulsory redundancies at a time when news organisations around the world are facing exceptional challenges,” it said.
“We have strong contingency plans in place to ensure business as usual at the FT.”
The Financial Times has managed to increase its circulation, sales and profits at a time when many British newspapers are struggling, because of its loyal niche audience and investment in digital products to offset falling newspaper sales.
Last year, the FT increased revenues by 7 percent to 427 million pounds ($672 million) and its operating profit by 17 percent to 76 million pounds as its combined paid print and digital circulation reached a record 600,000.
Thomson Reuters narrowly averted a strike by its London journalists last month by increasing its minimum pay-rise offer to 2.5 percent from 1.75 percent, with an extra 0.5 percent for merit.
British consumer-price inflation hit a three-year high of 5.2 percent last September, but dropped sharply in January to 3.6 percent, its lowest annual rate since November 2010.