AOL UK redundancies could prompt strike

Proposed industrial action caps off a turbulent week for the service provider

Journalists working at AOL UK may strike following the announcement of a wave of redundancies at the company.

Following a ballot of around 40 employees, who are members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), strike action is now on the cards but has not been definitely confirmed.

The journalists are upset by AOL UK's decision to make over 100 compulsory redunancies rather than provide the option for employees to leave voluntarily. It is uncertain how many jobs will be lost from the editorial unit which curently employs around 80 people.

AOL UK is in the midst of a transformation from a service provider to a portal business following the recent sale of the internet access side of AOL UK to Carphone Warehouse.

According to Jenny Lennox, the NUJ's assistant organiser for new media, the union is "awaiting talks next week with management" in the hope of making strike action unnecessary. "People are upset" that the legally required 90-day consultation period since the redundancies were announced in September will be ending on 18 December without any specifics having been made available, she added.

Another NUJ meeting to decide whether a strike is inevitable will probably take place next Friday, a day after the union meets with AOL UK management, although Lennox insisted that "nobody wants to take industrial action of any kind".

It should be possible for the redundancies to be voluntary as AOL UK has already hinted that the number of editorial staff being lined up for the chop is relatively small, said Lennox.

But AOL UK's director of communications, Jonathan Lambeth, claimed on Friday that a voluntary approach could result in even more redundancies than would happen with a compulsory scheme.

"The management team is creating a new structure, and are going to offer roles to the people who are best suited," said Lambeth. "That's the most effective way to fill a company structure and enable the company to do well. Management want to minimise the number of redundancies — for the company as a whole, for those employees who will be in the future business, and also in terms of getting the process completed as quickly as possible, compulsory redundancies are much better".

AOL has faced a turbulent time recently. The UK redundancies will come soon after 450 job losses were announced at AOL's US headquarters on Wednesday. The company seems to have a habit of laying off hundreds of workers just before the festive season — 700 jobs were cut in autumn 2005, and 750 at the end of 2004.

AOL Europe's chief executive Carlo d'Asaro Biondo also announced on Wednesday that he was standing down after less than two months in the job, citing another job offer that he "did not have the courage to refuse". The company said on Thursday that his departure was entirely unrelated to the wider job cuts being experienced at AOL.