Forward together

RECOGNITION that freelances are a crucial part of the process of regaining trade union rights under the fairness at work legislation was probably the most important outcome for the freelance sector of the NUJ's annual delegate meeting in Ireland last month.

The conference was riding on a tide of optimism and good humour thanks to early gains in the battle to re-establish trade union agreements and anticipation of the Employment Relations Act coming into force this summer. Most encouragingly, this upbeat spirit appeared to extend to a new feeling of goodwill towards freelances. Many speakers referred spontaneously to "staff and freelances" when putting forward motions that were not about freelance issues and the generous hospitality of the our Irish hosts undoubtedly contributed to the unifying mood.

The positive atmosphere was helped as conference began on a high note with the section on fairness at work and celebration of victories at the Western Mail and elsewhere. The National Executive Council (NEC) put forward a motion that sets out the mechanism for co-ordinating recognition claims under the act. Essentially any chapel seeking recognition must have the endorsement of the national body (industrial council) responsible for that sector and the union's NEC.

Conference accepted without question a London Freelance Branch (LFB) amendment to require the Freelance Industrial Council (FIC) to be part of that process wherever freelances are either included in, or negotiating their own separate, recognition agreements. This is vital for both staff and freelances. Staff chapels need to be alert to freelances' concerns - but should not negotiate on their behalf without consulting freelances individually and through the union structures. Similarly freelances must stand firm with their staff colleagues as they go into what may be protracted and difficult recognition campaigns. The freelance sector should be ready to help organise freelances to do that. Two days later an LFB motion set out the principles that should underline staff/freelance relations. These start from the recognition that both freelances and staff benefit if freelances are not a cheap option. If freelance pay and conditions reflect the true cost of being self-employed, they get a living wage and publishers have less incentive to cut staff jobs.

So the freelance day rate must always be much higher than an equivalent "staff day rate" because of the lack of security and the extra costs borne by freelances. The right for freelances to retain their copyright is also vital - and a potential bridgehead to begin a fight to win copyright for staff. The motion also stresses the need for staff and freelances to work together on recognition campaigns and pay and conditions negotiations and the importance of having freelance representation on chapel committees. This motion, like the amendment to the NEC motion, was passed unanimously by conference and with no-one speaking against it.

As a result of this success, and the sea change in the attitude of ADM to freelances this year, staff and freelances are going into the new era of fairness at work united in a joint programme.

That is something to celebrate - though the task of making it real in chapels and workplaces is just beginning.

May/Jun 2000
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Last modified: 08 May 2000
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