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Council of Europe backs freelance rights

14 December 2018

The National Union of Journalists in the UK and Ireland (NUJ) has welcomed the Council of Europe's determination confirming self-employed workers are entitled to collective trade union representation and negotiations with their employers.  

The decision of the Council of Europe's committee of ministers follows an earlier decision of the European committee of social rights (ECSR) and relates to a complaint that was originally lodged on behalf of self-employed workers by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

The complaint was supported by the NUJ and our sister unions including the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), the Musicians Union of Ireland and Equity, the trade union for creative practitioners.

The determination affirms the European social charter in regard to the right to collective bargaining and applies this principle to self-employed people including freelance journalists.

It was also decided that restrictions based on existing competition law or commercial law are not legitimate or necessary in a democratic society.

The European decision is in line with the Irish Competition Amendment Act (May 2017) which allows collective bargaining for journalists and artists. The changes in Irish law last year were the result of trade union campaigning.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Well done to the many trade union activists who have worked on this campaign and have never given up on achieving better rights for workers including the self-employed. NUJ freelance members are a huge and growing sector of our union and this determination from Europe shows that we are well equipped and best placed to continue the fight for employment rights for all." 

Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

"This is a significant step which must be acknowledged by the European Commission and the council of ministers. It is another breakthrough in the battle to assert the rights of freelance workers. For too long competition law has been granted primacy over the rights of workers. Yet again the NUJ has been central to a significant European challenge to anti-worker legislation. Without the support of the ICTU and our sister unions this campaign could not succeed. Working together we have secured an important determination. We are especially grateful to Esther Lynch at the ETUC and to Patricia King at ICTU for their support."

Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal and industrial officer, said:

"The result is legally significant for our many freelance members who work across Europe who will be able to collectively bargain to seek better terms for their work. I would also like to put on record our thanks to John Hendy QC."

Tags: , europe, council of europe, freelance, self-employed, employment, employment law, employment rights, irish congress of trade unions, siptu, musicians' union of ireland, equity, collective bargaining, trade union rights