Referendum fallout for freelances

WHAT WILL be the effects of the UK's referendum vote on freelance journalists? Of course, there is always the likelihood of something happening while this ink is drying that changes everything: this is the normal condition of journalism, but more so.

What will be the result of legal challenges to the process, or the utter absence of process? Or might the government - a government - fall back in desperation on the sarcastically logical suggestion by Professor Ross Anderson (who spoke at our May meeting) that England and Wales should simply withdraw from the United Kingdom? For a while it seemed likely an actual Lewis Carrol character would be Prime Minister... But we reckon it's still worth thinking about what may happen.

First, there are the effects that everyone in these islands faces - but freelance journalists possibly more so. "Business confidence" seems a nebulous abstraction: but its collapse in the face of uncertainty has the real-world effect that investment is unlikely. A collapse of the remaining print advertising market is not impossible. And so on.

Second, the whole process provides a focus for distrust in journalists and journalism. Few are in a mood to make subtle distinctions between the output of certain newspapers and the mass of ethical journalism that continues. Indeed, it's possible that the referendum result was caused by a large segment of voters getting fed up with subtle distinctions.

Third, there are the direct legal effects of any move to disengage the UK from the EU. Removing obstacles to weakening labour and social rights seems, after all, to have been the entire point for at least some of those funding the Leave campaign.

The UK remains a member of the EU for at least two years. That gives us time to watch for moves by the bosses to "take back control" over us - unless, that is, it is after all possible to have a Norway-style fudge involving access to the single market and continued application of EU rules, or something even closer.

Would the bosses attack the EU Working Time Directive, which among other things gives freelances who work shifts the right to paid time off? Or that giving agency workers rights similar to those of employees they work alongside? Or rules on authors' rights - given that newspaper owners would love to move to fullblown US-style corporate copyright law, in which all ourlovely "content" belongs to them?

Things that are very unlikely to change include payments from ALCS and DACS for photocopying and so forth done overseas. You are entitled to these under the laws of those countries, and they are administered by direct agreement between collecting societies. In principle a UK government outside the EU could remove regulation of collecting societies: but that's hardly likely to be a priority in the long queue of things to "deregulate" over many years.

The many citizens of other EU member states working in the UK as freelance journalists - who include NUJ members - will continue to have exactly the same rights to live and work in the UK. These won't change until there is actual legislation passed in the UK, if any.

In the next few years it's less legal changes than the spirit of the thing that's worrying. Will it get harder in practice to enforce EU-related rights that are still the letter of the law? Mention to colleagues that now is a very good time to join a trade union and work togther in mutual defence.

Last modified: 19 Jul 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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