Following the lead of its Taiwan office, newspaper Apple Daily has announced arrangements to dismiss employees and rehire them as freelancers in Hong Kong, says its local trade union.

The Next Media Trade Union said in a Thursday statement that staff from Apple Daily’s supplement, entertainment, graphics, sport and finance sections would be affected. Staff contracting arrangements have also been planned for the weekly Next Magazine.

Next Media Headquarters.

Earlier this month, parent company Next Digital announced losses of almost HK$394 million for the financial year ending in March. The loss is HK$70 million more than the loss in the preceding year, as advertising income declines.

Contract companies and freelancers

According to the Next Media Trade Union, several departments or teams from Apple Daily have been asked to establish separate companies. The newspaper would then subcontract production work to them.

It added that some employees had been asked to leave at the end of June. They would then be rehired as freelancers beginning on August 1, under contracts lasting from six months to one year.

“We understand that the media industry is undergoing massive transformations and the group is facing pressures on costs,” said the union. “However, subcontracting is not the solution to the problem, because labour protection and news quality will take a big hit.”

The union said it would hold a meeting with management on Friday, and urged employees not to accept any contracting arrangements beforehand.

Next Media Trade Union. File photo: Next Media Trade Union via Facebook.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a Thursday statement that it has contacted the media company’s management, but has not yet received a reply.

“We doubt whether the subcontracting arrangement can protect the rights of employees, and worry whether they can make a decision as to whether to accept the arrangement free of pressure.”

“We agree with the Next Media Trade Union in urging employees not to accept any new arrangements at the moment.”

See also: Apple Daily Taiwan encourages reporters to leave and become freelancers

An internal circular dated June 14 had also asked staff from the Taiwan office of Apple Daily to “establish a small company, a personal workshop or a personal media business.”

HKFP has contacted Next Digital for comment.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.