Canwest seeks concessions

Unions at Canwest Global Communications (TSX:CGS) newspapers say they are being asked to enter concession talks with the company, which faces a major restructuring effort as it tries to deal with a crushing $3.9 billion debt load.

TORONTO — Unions at Canwest Global Communications (TSX:CGS) newspapers say they are being asked to enter concession talks with the company, which faces a major restructuring effort as it tries to deal with a crushing $3.9 billion debt load.

The CWA/SCA Canada union said Friday the newspaper publisher is asking for wage cuts of up to five per cent, which could save it $20 million a year.

The union, which represents workers at five of Canwest’s major papers, received the requests in a letter Friday from Dennis Skulsky, president and CEO of Canwest’s newspaper operations.

The union said it believes similar letters have been sent to other union leaders at Canwest newspapers.

In a copy of the letter provided to The Canadian Press by Canwest, Skulsky suggests a five per cent wage cut for all Canwest newspaper employees would result in $20 million in savings a year.

He describes the potential wage reduction as what “could well be the difference between a creditor protection process or not.”

Skulsky also highlighted the company’s “candid and open discussions” with stakeholders, including its own employees, about the current business climate. He said those talks are important in “framing a successful path for this company.”

However, he noted that despite those efforts “we haven’t been able to engage our union leadership in a dialogue that is constructive for both Canwest and its employees.”

CWA/SCA Canada director Arnold Amber disputed “the suggestion in the letter that somehow our union is unwilling to engage in talks.”

“We are urging Canwest to provide complete financial information and if it does, we would be open to further discussions,” he said in a statement.

“The focus of any talks now should be how to ensure that the newspapers we work for succeed in their cities. We know just from the numbers that have been made public that five per cent wage concessions are not going to go far in solving Canwest’s overall debt, so we need to take a broader view about the problem at hand.”

Canwest owns the National Post, based in Toronto, as well as a string of big-city dailies from Vancouver to Montreal. The company also operates the Global TV network.

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