Our union lobbying for freelances

THE NUJ's Freelance Officer Pamela Morton and NUJ Freelance Industrial Council Chair Francis Sedgemore are as we go to press working flat out on lobbying for the interests of the one third of NUJ members who are freelances. The NUJ, and the trade union movement through the Trades Union Congress, continues to lobby to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus lockdown on all workers, freelance or staff.

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We are supported by numerous other groups representing the self-employed. A petition to Parliament on making Statutory Sick Pay available to the self-employed had nearly 700,000 signatures as we went to press. The government responded on 28 March, not without sarcasm: "It would not be appropriate to require the self-employed to pay themselves statutory sick pay, as they are their own employer." The welfare system, the government claimed, "provides a safety net to support the self-employed."

What we did get is the grant scheme. See our report of this, which notes questions that the NUJ will be trying to answer [and one to which it got an answer on 6 April]. And the petition has more than enough signatures that, eventually, Parliament must debate the question it raises.

The NUJ also joined in pressing government to extend the recently-announced mortgage holiday to include a rent freeze. What we do have is an announcement from government on 18 March of "emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place". In the meantime new court mandates for evictions are unlikely. (Incidentally, it somehow proved possible to house people homeless on the street.)

Matthew Taylor, a former Downing Street adviser who led the influential 2017 Taylor Review into employment practices and the gig economy, recently called for emergency "universal income" to include gig workers and the self-employed. He said that he saw "immediate universal income as a war necessity" (see here for background on the Taylor Review).

The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) - a union representing nominally "self-employed" gig economy workers including Deliveroo and Uber Eats riders, private hire drivers, contract cleaners and security staff - has started legal action against the government over "discriminatory" statutory sick pay and the 80 per cent income guarantee provisions for employees on PAYE.

The IWGB's "letter before action" states that "the 80 per cent wage subsidies are discriminatory against 'gig economy' and self-employed workers under Article 14 (taken with Article 1, Protocol 1) of the European Charter on Human Rights." Article 14 "requires that all of the rights and freedoms set out in the Act must be protected and applied without discrimination." Watch this space to see whether this proceeds to Judicial Review.

For updated covid-19 advice from the NUJ and FIC please watch the NUJ news pages at www.nuj.org.uk/news and LFB's website and its Twitter feed will also convey these updates.