Council 'controlled' journalists on Greenwich Time 'week in, week out'

Former Greenwich Time journalists Rod Kitson and Peter Cordwell at the employment tribunal hearing yesterday

Former Greenwich Time journalists Rod Kitson and Peter Cordwell with Unite rep Danny Hoggan

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Journalists at council-owned Greenwich Time described "being controlled week in, week out" at an employment tribunal hearing yesterday (March 12).

Peter Cordwell, 66, who worked on the paper for 12 years, was fired days after sending a letter to News Shopper over the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign's success.

His colleague Rod Kitson, 32, a Greenwich Time reporter for five years, was dismissed weeks later in August last year and both men have filed a claim for unfair dismissal against Greenwich Council.

Yesterday, a preliminary hearing kicked off at the London Tribunal Service in Croydon to judge whether they were employees of the council or just freelancers.

The tribunal was told how the journalist were paid through a traditional PAYE system on a monthly basis.

Greenwich Council head of communications Stuart Godfrey said: "Peter Cordwell was paid through PAYE until he was dismissed. There were plans to change the system of payment but it did not come through by the time he left."

The tribunal was told that, weeks before Mr Cordwell was fired, the staff of the paper were given the option of signing up with employment company Manpower as agency workers.

It was at this point Mr Cordwell, assistant editor at the paper, began discussions with union Unite over concerns at how Manpower would affect his job role.

Mr Godfrey said: "He was told he was self-employed by the council and at no point did he object to that.

"They (the claimants) got cross but they did not object."

Barrister Jonathan Cohen, representing Greenwich Council, said: "Let's look at something which is, on the face of it, an innocuous email about a Christmas party in 2009.

"Mr Cordwell, you said, 'this is a press office/ town hall do and I don't think we fit in that well'. You were very different to the other people."

Mr Cordwell replied: "We are creative, maverick people and my idea of a sociable evening is not to spend it with people at the town hall.

"I was controlled by the council for six, seven years week in, week out.

"I was talking about a difference of personalities, I was making a philosophical point."

Mr Kitson, who had joined the paper in 2008, said: "We were definitely managed and did not have free control.

"Our job was to make council stories more palatable."

"I thought I was employed because I went into the Woolwich office every day, doing core hours and getting a monthly salary. The fact that we did not have an employment contract did not come up.

"It was not my place to question why I didn't have this or a staff handbook. It is not my personality to question something like that."

The preliminary hearing will resume at the London Tribunal Service in Croydon on April 8.

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