Full rights for freelances: TUC

THE TRADES Union Congress (TUC) is to campaign for full bargaining rights for casual and other "atypical" workers, after this year's congress in Brighton voted for an NUJ motion - which started life as a London Freelance Branch initiative.

Loopholes in Fairness at Work legislation mean freelances have no effective right to collective bargaining, even while - in the case of many doing casual shifts - doing the same work as staff, who are protected against unfair dismissal.

Because companies are able to deem these workers "not employees", they are in practice denied union recognition, a right given to them in the current weak legislation but practically impossible to enforce. And freelances have no protection from  unfair dismissal. This undermines the working conditions of those who are genuine freelances by choice, and puts staff at risk of enforced casualisation, with all its implications for journalistic quality.

At the congress in Brighton, NUJ delegate and LFB secretary Tom Davies explained how current weaknesses in the law had allowed News International to dismiss, at less than a day's notice, an NUJ member who had been working 10 shifts a month for the previous 18 months; how the Telegraph was able to exclude casuals who worked fewer than 10 days a month from any recognition rights; and how the Guardian policy of enforcing a six-week unpaid "break" on casuals every 10 months denied them any protection against unfair dismissal.

The result was a two-tier workforce, allowing unscrupulous employers to undercut the pay and conditions of staff. "Fairness at work should mean fairness for all," Tom Davies said: "freelance, casual, atypical or however they are defined."

The motion, seconded by broadcasting union BECTU, won overwhelming support. It calls on the TUC to prioritise campaigning for rights including  statutory recognition procedures for all, and "urges the TUC to help co-ordinate the lobbying and campaigning activities of those unions with members affected by such exploitation."

Tom Davies commented that this "is only the start, of course - but it's important to make the vulnerable situation faced by too many in our industry a central concern for the wider trade union movement." (See here for developments on freelance rights at the European level.)

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