Learning lessons from Drogheda deal developments

THE CONTROVERSY around this summer's NUJ agreement with Independent News and Media's Drogheda Independent in Ireland may be puzzling to London-based freelances. Why is it so important to us?

The deal with the Drogheda Independent stated that future recruits to the paper will become NUJ members, and gave pay increases to the lowest-paid staff. The NUJ's Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley said it was "the best deal available," signed after Independent News and Media had withdrawn from the Irish national newspapers agreement, and it was felt that pensions and other terms and conditions were seriously at risk.

Photographers were considerably less happy with clause 6.1 of the agreement, which puts "no restriction on the utilisation of equipment or software... all equipment - including use of cameras by reporters on assignment - will be operated without further claim by the staff". As well as potentially attacking the livelihoods of freelance photographers who do work for the paper, it raises for writers and broadcasters the daunting prospect of being made to do unlimited photography or video.

The Emergency Committee of the NUJ's National Executive Council (NEC) approved the agreement on 2 August. (See the Emergency Committee’s statement on the Drogheda agreement here.) Then on Friday 21 September, in the words of freelance and NEC member Tim Dawson, the NEC "moved to draw a line beneath the Drogheda Independent agreement. It resolved that the multi-skilling clause in the agreement would not be a model for negotiations on other titles and moved to reassure photographers that significantly more concern would be paid to their concerns in the future."

The Drogheda agreement includes provision for a joint working party to monitor the clause on new technology and photography, which will take "due cognisance of the current policy of the NUJ."

Work now has to be done to ensure that clause 6.1 doesn't become a precedent. And it needn't - since it was passed there have been cases where staff have resisted attempts to bring in similar technology-led changes. There is also a need for greater co-operation between staff and freelances from the beginning of negotiations.

The NEC also promised to carry out a survey on how widespread multi-skilling already is in the UK and Irish media. The NUJ's commission on media convergence and integration is expected to produce its report around late October or early November. (For more on this, see www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0707conv.html) A debate on the issues around the Drogheda agreement is promised at next year's conference, a process which we expect LFB members will have helped to shape with motions for next year's conference under discussion in October's Branch meeting by the time you're reading this...

  • The NUJ's Irish Executive called a forum on Convergence in Focus on Saturday 20 October 2007 in Dublin. To book, email info@nuj.ie
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