O’Reilly agreement sparks controversy

THE NUJ has approved an agreement at the Drogheda Independent, owned by Tony O'Reilly's Independent News and Media, that promises recruitment of staff to the union but has caused concern among freelances, particularly photographers, over its requirement that staff reporters carry cameras.

The breakthrough in union organisation of staff is in clause 1.5 of the agreement: "all persons recruited in the future for editorial positions shall be required to be, or become members of the NUJ." The lowest-paid staff gain increases.

The parts causing worry include: "6.1 Utilisation - There will be no restriction on the utilisation of all equipment or software... All equipment - including use of cameras by reporters on assignment - will be operated without further claim by staff covered by this Agreement."

NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley recommended the agreement, noting that he, the Irish Organiser and the staff chapel "feel it is the best available... Non-implementation will put at risk the benefits won through the negotiations but will not prevent the introduction of new work practices". He drew attention to the commitment that: "A joint working party will be set up to monitor the implementation of this Clause as it refers to the use of photographic equipment. The working party will take due cognisance of the current policy of the NUJ." This year's Annual Delegate Meeting voted to remove the policy against reporters taking pictures.

When photographers heard of the proposed agreement through email lists, however, they expressed outrage that reporting staff being given cameras would mean the end of professional photography at the title, or any others where similar agreements might be struck. The wording of clause 6.1 also seems to imply that reporters could in future be required, for example, to shoot and edit video, for no extra money.

Informed of these concerns, the union's Irish Executive Council asked the NUJ's National Executive (NEC) to reject the agreement. But it was taken up by the Emergency Committee (EC) of the NEC: Michelle Stanistreet, James Doherty, Anita Halpin, John Barsby, Jim Boumelha and Kyran Connolly.

Among representations made to the EC was one from NUJ Norfolk Branch, asking that "in line with the IEC resolution and in the interest of democracy in our union, this matter is referred to the full NEC for discussion", noting that the NUJ had just distributed to Branches the European Federation of Journalists Charter of Freelance rights, and urging the EC "to take account of these statements when you decide on a course of action."

The EC approved the agreement on 2 August. Announcing this, it said: "Recognising that the agreement has implications for reporters and photographers, the Committee warmly welcomes the stated commitment of the company to maintain professional photographers to perform core photographic coverage... Given that the NUJ annual conference earlier this year elected a convergence commission, dealing with integration and convergence of media, this Committee agrees to refer to the commission the further development of an effective strategy encompassing all technological changes."

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