‘False self-employed’ freelances can have rights

THE COURT of Justice of the European Union has ruled that trade union collective agreements may include provision for workers who are not employed but are, in the Court's phrase, "false self-employed". These agreements may include provisions setting minimum rates. The case will be of particular interest to freelances in Ireland, where the NUJ and other unions have been told by government that they may not even produce lists of rates.

The workers in the case in question are substitutes for orchestra members in the Netherlands. So the ruling appears to cover people who work under the direction of a client at a place and time of the client's choosing, but only sporadically. That would be subbing shifts or photography paid by the day, to you.

Crucially, the ruling has no effect on laws that say when employer and client organisations must negotiate with unions. So its direct effect applies only where they are already willing to negotiate. Collective agreements still must not include the "genuine self-employed", such as writers paid by the word or image-makers by the pixel. That continues to be seen as a "cartel" - as if freelances were liable to manipulate the market as did the 19th-century US railroads.

The European Federation of Journalists is talking with the European Commission about possible ways to improve the situation. In Germany, all authors - staff and freelance - are entitled by law to "equitable remuneration" and to negotiate minimum terms agreements, under the 2002 law governing authors' rights contracts (Urhebervertragsrecht). It took until 2010 to reach an agreement with the newspaper publishers and agreement has still not been reached with the magazine publishers. An important effect of the law that it is possible to challenge contracts "offered" to journalists, and the unions frequently get them overturned.

The Irish Congress of Trades Unions has written to their competition authority pointing out that its position has "damaged the exercise of a fundamental human right, namely the right to collective bargaining for many thousands of workers and their unions in Ireland" and requesting an urgent review.

Last modified: 01 Mar 2015 - © 2015 contributors
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