#DM18: Government policies
20 April 2018
During the conference debate on government policies in Southport on Friday afternoon, motion 27 was moved by Cailin Mackenzie on behalf of the continental European council.
Cailin, right, expressed anger that our fundamental human rights were being threatened, and the UK government intended to revoke these rights. She added the union must continue to work to ensure that the existing human rights framework was maintained and she raised concerns about journalists being put under surveillance, being locked up and being killed. She also highlighted that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is one of the few places where we could hold governments to account and reminded delegates of the NUJ's historic achievement at the ECHR on the right to protect journalistic sources in the case of NUJ member, Bill Goodwin.
The motion was seconded by Francis Sedgemore on behalf of the freelance industrial council who said defending human rights was a vitally important campaign for the union, and it was especially important for freelance journalists.
The third speech in support of the motion was by Gerry Carson on behalf of the Irish executive council. He highlighted the complete failure in Northern Ireland to agree on power-sharing, and argued that it was absolutely necessary to defend human rights in this context.
The motion was agreed by the delegate meeting, which also condemned moves to water down or attempt to withdraw from the European Convention and revoke the Human Rights Act. The motion instructed the NEC to:
- work to protect journalists' rights under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention;
- publicise the importance of ECHR decisions on the protection of journalists, and the negative consequences for journalists if the Human Rights Act and/or the European Convention could no longer be pleaded before a British court;
- join with other trade unions and civil society groups to raise awareness about the importance of the existing human rights framework and to counter claims that it promoted unwelcome immigration and the protection of terrorists;
- oppose any UK or Irish government legislation that attempted to increase mass surveillance, including the collection of metadata;
- oppose any attempts to revoke the Human Rights Act or water down or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.
Chris Morley proposed motion 28 on behalf of the Birmingham and Coventry branch. This motion highlighted problems associated with employment law relating to redundancy payments. By failing to allow the calculation of any previous completed years of full-time working in statutory and many enhanced redundancy payment calculations, many women workers who changed from full-time to part-time working, often due to caring responsibilities and were then subsequently dismissed as redundant, were financially penalised.
Chris said that one of the first NUJ members he helped when he started as a union rep was a female journalist who had worked full-time and then part-time before she was made redundant and the package she was given was three-fifths of what she should have got when she left. In these types of cases, previous service was not fully taken into account and as a consequence, the NUJ should continue to try to tackle this injustice, he said. There were many women in the media industry affected by this unjust law and the union needed to campaign against this inequality.
Motion 28 was seconded by Liz Else on behalf of the NEC who said the inequality in redundancy payments was yet another form of discrimination against women. She argued that the existing law was wrong and the union had to put this issue on the political agenda. The motion was agreed and it instructed the NEC to work with the TUC, political parties and the NUJ parliamentary group to change the statutory rules.
Motion 29 was moved by Jenny Sims on behalf of the 60+ Council which instructs the NEC to continue to support the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign launched as a result of the discrimination faced by women born in the 1950s. Jenny pointed out that women at this year's delegate meeting continued to be affected by the pensions changes that treat women unfairly.
Alan Gibson supported motion 29 on behalf of the NEC. What had happened to these women was appalling and the union should welcome the pensions issue climbing up the political agenda, whether it was the WASPI campaign or the recent UCU dispute. The motion was agreed by the delegate meeting and it urged the NUJ to continue to support the WASPI campaign.
First-time delegate, Emma Ni Riain from the Dublin broadcasting branch, proposed motion 30 dealing with state pension changes in Ireland in 2012. She said some pensioners had lost more than €20,000 over a lifetime and she called on the NUJ to stand in solidarity with older colleagues, especially women.
The motion was seconded by Emma O'Kelly on behalf of the NEC who pointed out it was the third consecutive motion highlighting discrimination faced by women. The changes introduced in 2012 were disgraceful and, although there had been some changes since the motion was submitted, they did not sufficiently address the problem.
Motion 30 noted the changes in 2012 led to workers who had made the exact same number of pensions contributions in the course of their working lives had ended up with very different pensions. The consequences had been the drastic reduction in pensions for about 36,000 people, with some pensioners losing up to €30 per week. The motion was agreed and it instructed the NEC and Irish executive to work with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to campaign against this injustice. The motion specified that the campaign should involve organising a national demonstration before the end of 2018.
The delegate meeting agreed that motion 31 relating to maternity benefits in Ireland would be remitted for further discussion.
Motion 32 – that the government's universal credit had been a disaster for the low-paid and for freelance workers – was moved by London freelance branch representative Jenny Vaughan, left. Universal credit was in the news a lot but the way it affected freelances and self-employed workers was often not reported, Jenny said. It was extraordinary that the government kept pushing down the level of support available and it was both absurd and obscene.
Ann Galpin from the disabled members' council seconded the motion, saying the government was making further cuts which were a huge obstacle for disabled journalists.
The motion was passed and it instructs the NEC to work with the Federation of Entertainment Unions and members of parliament to overturn and frustrate these regressive measures.
Roy Jones, right, proposed social care motion number 33 on behalf of the 60+ Council. The provision of this care was failing to provide dignity for older people in the UK, he said and social care was now largely run by the private sector which did not provide decent pay and conditions for staff.
Successive governments had cut local authority funding for social care, and this had led to a rationing of services and a reduction in the number of people receiving support. The National Pensioners Convention was campaigning for the establishment of a National Care Service and the motion encouraged NUJ members to get involved in this crusade – millions of older people now lived in poverty.
Alan Gibson also supported motion 33 on behalf of the NEC and the motion was carried.
Niall Mulholland, below, from the London magazine branch proposed motion 34 as a first-time delegate. The motion acknowledged the ongoing housing crisis and called for justice for the Grenfell Tower victims.
Niall said that the union needed to conduct research on how the crisis affected NUJ members, and reminded delegates that the crisis existed not just in London but also in all the cities and towns in the UK and Ireland. Social housing tenants had been demonised and private sector tenants faced high rents, slum conditions and insecure tenancies, he said. Many local newspaper journalists could no longer afford to live in London and a huge public investment in social housing was needed to address the crisis.
Alan Gibson, speaking for the NEC, welcomed the proposal that the motion should be remitted, based on a commitment that the next NUJ all-members survey would include a question about housing and the information would be used in the union's future campaigning work and strategies.
Alan called for a minute's silence to mark the Grenfell disaster which was held during the meeting.
Composite D (covering motions 35, 36 with amendments) was proposed by James Overton from the Paris branch. The motion applauded the successes of NUJ members involved in innovation, the digital economy and start-ups, but also expressed outrage about the unfair competition from multinational firms which avoid paying their fair share of tax.
James said this issue affected everyone in the creative industries – not just journalists – and awareness needed to be raised so that decision-makers could introduce reforms to prevent companies artificially shifting their profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
Ronan Brady from the Dublin P&PR branch seconded the motion and added public service journalism should be funded by profit-making companies, pointing out the Irish government was failing to tax multinational social media corporations.
Sylvia Courtnage from the book branch also supported composite D, saying the Paradise Papers had lifted the stone under which the super-rich had been operating and tax avoidance had led to the underfunding of many public services.
The motion was agreed and instructed the NEC to campaign via the TUC and other avenues to put pressure on the government to close the loopholes which enable tax havens.
Christina Zaba proposed motion 37 (media surveillance) on behalf of the new media industrial council, urging the NUJ to keep up the fight for technology to enhance freedoms rather than used as an instrument of control.
Mass surveillance had now been made possible on an unprecedented scale – in the three years up to 2015 the phone records of 105 journalists were accessed in pursuit of 242 sources of information, she said. The motion also noted that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled in 2016 that MI6, MI5, and GCHQ had unlawfully collected citizens' private data for 10 years.
Despite assurances from government ministers to the contrary, and a widely-praised campaign by the NUJ, the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act did not contain sufficient safeguards for the protection of journalistic sources. This new law did not require prior notification that a journalist's phone or internet records were to be examined in secret by the authorities. The law did not require that an application to examine such records be made in an open court and it also did not allow a journalist to oppose such a move.
The NEC representative, Jim Boumelha, seconded the motion and said there had always been cases of governments attempting to spy on journalists and interfere with their sources. He also said it was a scandal that authorities around the world continued to monitor and track journalists. Jim added that it was thanks to the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, that we now had a much better understanding of the scope of state surveillance across borders introduced without the consent of citizens or a public debate.
Jim highlighted the union's continuing work on this issue, including campaigns organised during the legislative process and the union's formal submissions to the Home Office public consultation on the draft codes of practice for the Investigatory Powers Act. The work had involved complex legal arguments and it had been crucial that the NUJ be involved in this legal battle. He told the delegate meeting that it was incumbent on all of us to work to rein in the surveillance infrastructure and bring it under democratic control.
Motion 37 was agreed and instructed the NEC to continue to campaign against the application of surveillance techniques used to access journalists' material and communications. The motion also called for the NUJ to create new materials and training courses to help journalists safeguard their sources and urged the union to continue to support the ongoing legal case in the European Court of Human Rights brought by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists.
Phil Turner from the south Yorkshire branch moved motion 38 which condemns the government's Prevent strategy. Phil said the scheme claimed to be about tackling terrorism, but it created fear and demonised Muslim communities. The motion was seconded by Chris Rea from the Manchester and Salford branch who said that Prevent was a toxic and unworkable strategy. Alan Gibson supported the motion on behalf of the NEC and explained that related legislation had been used to silence legitimate public debates about Israel and Palestine. The motion was agreed by conference delegates and called for the repeal of Prevent.
Motion 39 on trade union changes was moved by NEC representative Tim Lezard. While the Tory government had been making wholesale cuts across the board, it had also invested in the Certification Office which taxed and policed trade unions.
Tim explained the government was also changing the rules so that anyone could make a complaint about a trade union, allowing people to make vexatious complaints. The government added insult to injury by insisting trade unions pay for this by introducing a levy on unions. The motion was agreed and instructed the NEC to resist any attempt to levy trade unions and to campaign with the TUC and the Federation of Entertainment Unions to lobby the government to abandon its plans.
Motion 40 was proposed by Martin Shipton on behalf of the Cardiff and south east Wales branch. It applauded the Welsh government for its initiative to help to create jobs for journalists in Wales. While the Welsh government had provided a grant to Newsquest when it set up a subbing hub in Newport, when the hub was established the firm cut jobs in other parts of the UK. Then a couple of years after this workplace was created, Newsquest shut it down. However, the Welsh government reclaimed the money and subsequently allocated it to hyperlocals. Martin argued the Welsh government should be congratulated on this move and it should be replicated elsewhere in the UK.
Pamela Morton seconded the motion on behalf of the NEC and welcomed the £200,000 of government money invested. She said that the big media companies were failing the people of Wales and the union had been discussing other initiatives that would deliver public sector funding for public-interest journalism. The motion was agreed.
Elizabeth Ingrams from the London freelance branch proposed motion 41 on the abolition of nuclear weapons. She called for journalists to support the campaign as part of a push for greater democracy and human rights worldwide. The motion was carried by conference and renews the union's anti-nuclear policy that was first passed in 1985. The motion highlights the dangerous stand-off between North Korea and the United States and recognises the existence of nuclear weapons as the greatest threat to the right to life of both individuals and humankind. The motion instructs the NEC to press the governments of the UK and Ireland to sign the nuclear ban treaty.
* All photos: Paul Herrmann