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Newspaper boxes containing the Vancouver Sun and the Province are seen in downtown Vancouver.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Postmedia Network Canada Corp. is continuing a widespread cost-cutting initiative, announcing 54 layoffs planned at newspapers in B.C.

A memo on Friday gave notice to employees at Pacific Newspaper Group, a division comprising the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, that layoff notices would be issued later this month, on or around March 24, likely affecting all departments. Layoffs will be effective on or around April 8.

The announcement is the next step after voluntary severance packages that were offered late last year, and similar layoffs at other newspapers. Spokesperson Phyllise Gelfand said she did not have numbers for the total layoffs planned chainwide.

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"The financial pressures facing the company, particularly in light of its significant revenue decline, are well known to all of us as this information is communicated each quarter when our financial results are made public," Brian Norris, director of human resources and labour relations at Pacific Newspaper Group, wrote in the memo.

Unifor Local 2000, which represents the PNG employees, plans to grieve the layoffs and proceed to arbitration with the company.

"It's excessive," said Local president Brian Gibson, noting that in the recent buyouts, 38 people left PNG – roughly 20 of them from the newsroom. "We're concerned about the public here in B.C. and how they will be served."

In January, Postmedia reported that revenue in its first quarter fell nearly 15 per cent, to $214.9-million. The layoffs are just another step in a larger cost-cutting and restructuring project for the company: that same quarter, the company reported a separate $78.6-million gain due to a debt restructuring that reduced its total debt to $307-million, down from $648-million.

Earlier this week, the company also announced a change to benefits for non-union staff. Those include employees at its non-union papers, such as the National Post, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, and in the Sun Media chain – and other operations. The changes include discontinuation of top-up pay for maternal and parental leave where offered; moving all employees to "defined contribution" pension plans; and halting accruals in existing "defined benefit" pension plans.

"In order to maintain the affordability of our benefits programs, changes were necessary," Ms. Gelfand said in an e-mail.

Unionized employees are covered under separate bargaining units across Postmedia, with more than 50 collective agreements. In B.C., the agreement allows for employees to volunteer to leave in place of coworkers who would be laid off. Those who volunteer receive two weeks' pay for each year of employment, with a maximum of 52 weeks' pay.

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Last year, Postmedia combined the newsrooms of the Sun and the Province, but kept the publications separate — part of a wave of newsroom consolidation across the country. The company cut hundreds of jobs and closed its printing plant in London, Ont.

In November, Postmedia reported that it paid almost $2.3-million in retention bonuses to its five most senior employees: $900,000 to president and chief executive officer Paul Godfrey, $450,000 to then-chief financial officer Doug Lamb, $425,000 to chief operating officer Andrew MacLeod, $300,000 to then-executive vice-president and legal counsel Jeffrey Haar and $200,000 to Gordon Fisher, president of the National Post and the Pacific Newspaper Group. Mr. Haar and Mr. Lamb have since left the company.

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