NUJ presses for freelancers' rights

A series of events dedicated to tackling the pressures facing freelance journalists from the media industry’s belt-tightening is underway across the UK.

Throughout July, open forums will suggest ways to defend the pay and conditions of freelancers, which unions say have both suffered as a result of the economic slowdown.

The talks will be heard in the chapels and branches of the National Union of Journalists, which announced the network as part of its month-long campaign for freelancing.

Giving a concentrated voice to freelancers’ concerns is necessary because under the law they have no statutory right to union recognition, the NUJ said.

The union worries that media employers, stung by declining advertising revenues, are prone to forcing employees onto casual contracts to keep costs down.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ deputy general secretary, said: “We know freelancers feel more vulnerable because they don’t have workplace union chapels to protect them.

“So I would urge all freelance members to support freelance month by attending their local branch meeting and taking part.”

At its heart, the campaign will address the fallout on freelancers from a “combination of the recession and the drive by media owners to maintain impossible profit levels”.

The NUJ added: “We have chosen this time because the massive cut backs in the media have hit freelancers at least as hard as staff.

“Many people taking redundancy are choosing to go freelance – which means more people competing for less work.”

Evidence heard at the forums, which are open to all freelancers, is likely to feed into a submission on freelancing policy by the NUJ to the government, suggesting the 31-day campaign could have implications beyond its lifetime.

“We would like to see a clearer definition of a ‘worker’ in the UK and Ireland with statutory workers’ rights on a pro rata basis,” reflected John Toner, NUJ freelance organiser.

“There is already a European directive on holiday pay, and a similar formula could be made to apply to other rights.”

Aside from the lively debate, the forums should also serve as a pick-up for freelance journalists, as “just bringing isolated workers together can be a boost for morale.”

Also in online statement, the NUJ added: “Achieving a work/life balance as a freelance can be incredibly challenging and many freelances work from home, which means they don't always have people around them with whom they can let off steam.”

The union’s lobbying effort for freelancers will extend to asking other media unions, including The Writers Guild, Equity and BECTU, to join in campaigning for the rights of freelance and casual workers.


9th July 2009

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