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Bogus self-employment report misses the target

1 February 2018

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, described the government review of self-employment arrangements and implications for social insurance and tax revenue as a “missed opportunity which misses the target and fails to address key issues about labour rights and social protection”. He said:

"The National Union of Journalists represents a significant number of freelances, including workers forced into bogus employment. The report does not recognise the scale of the problem in the media sector. There are a variety of employment relationships in the industry and a long standing tradition of freelance work but there is also a serious problem with workers being forced to accept contracts which deny them employment rights and social protection.

"The report, on initial reading, is extremely disappointing. It takes a superficial look at the problem of bogus self-employment and does not drill down into the very real problems faced by workers who are forced to accept contracts for service. We will be studying the recommendations but our initial reaction is one of dismay.

"Many companies require workers to declare themselves as ‘self-employed’  and if they refuse they are simply denied a contract.

"This is done to prevent the accrual of employment rights. The workers concerned cannot be regarded as having voluntarily accepted contracts of service. If they wish to challenge the contracts they cannot seek redress through the Workplace Relations Commission, because that avenue is closed to the ‘self-employed.’

"We do not believe that a PR campaign for Scope to heighten awareness of an under-resourced division of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection  will address the problems for our members. Workers should have the right to challenge their employment at the Workplace Relations Commission.

"Workers who wish to challenge their employment status should also have access to internal workplace procedures and should have the right to be represented by their trade union.  Currently they are denied that right. In RTÉ, for example, the NUJ does not have the right to represent long serving workers who wish to challenge contracts which do not reflect the reality of their employment relationship with the organisation.

"There should be an onus on companies to demonstrate objective criteria for the use of contracts for service and the use of third party agencies rather than direct employment contracts for work capable of being carried out by employees on contracts of service (employees). The practise of the national public service broadcaster, for example, engaging on air presenters and reporters via a third party company or agent is indefensible and has significant consequences for the career development of employees and the NUJ is demanding clarification of the basis on which these decisions are made.

"The tone of the report seems to suggest an equal relationship between engaging companies and workers. This masks the reality of the relationship for many precarious workers forced to work without social protection and benefits.  The solution is not to introduce measures to get around the problem of bogus self-employment and inappropriate contracts, rather it is to protect workers from the exploitation which flows from such contractual arrangements in the first place."

Tags: , freelance, self-employed, ireland, employment rights, Workplace Relations Commission, rte