#DM18: Setting the scene by sector
19 April 2018
Forsaking the Southport sun, delegates and members kicked off the conference weekend by getting together by sector to take stock of the union’s work; discuss motions to be presented at the Delegate Meeting and consider how the union can respond to the problems and challenges in their parts of the media.
The freelance sector meeting heard about the union's new campaign, Fair Terms not Their Terms, to devise a strategy to end the practises of many publishers which result in freelance journalists being paid only on publication or being offered derisive kill fees if the newspaper, magazine or website changes its mind about running the story.
Tim Dawson, NUJ president, said: “Too often freelances are bullied into terms of trade that they do not like and we need to come together and work towards ways of stopping companies from paying late or not at all despite commissioning work.”
The campaign was launched earlier this month with an event at Headland House, the NUJ’s London HQ, where journalists who had suffered hardship while they were made to wait for payment told members of their experiences. A survey of freelances was proposed to find out how widespread these practices are, the main culprits and to determine ways to ensure that, as many other self-employed workers do, they receive remuneration within 30 days of invoice.
Pennie Quinton, chair of the London Freelance Branch, said her branch thought the campaign was “brilliant” and was asking people to provide information about infringements and also examples of where freelances had successfully negotiated good deals.
It was agreed that freelances needed more training in how to negotiate for work. In the second part of the sector meeting, the delegates formed three groups to discuss how the union could help freelances. Ideas included creating a more integrated offering for freelances, providing templates for invoices and methods of chasing up payments. One group said the union should be better at publicising its successes. There was a call for regional Freelance Days and more affordable courses for freelances.
The newspapers and news agencies sector conference started by highlighting the successful work carried out since the last delegate meeting, such as the newspapers and agencies summit held in spring 2017 as part of Local News Matters Week.
Journalists in the sector faced many challenges and opportunities at work. The impact of digital changes represented a defining moment for journalism and these structural changes sat alongside the proliferation of fake news, excessive workloads, long-hours working, chronic staff shortages, and severe job cuts. There were concerns that cheap apprenticeship schemes were being used to replace jobs that had been cut. A culture of bullying still existed in newsrooms, and the NUJ continued to challenge it.
Positive initiatives led by the union, including the gender pay gap campaign, had encouraged more people to get active in the NUJ. The meeting agreed to keep up the pressure on media companies to deliver equality and diversity reforms and associated cultural change.
Members also agreed that the union needed to prioritise responding to the government's Cairncross Review on the sustainability of the press, and the BBC funded local democracy reporting scheme. The scheme was also an issue for the broadcasting sector, since it is a BBC initiative and the £8m a year spent on funding reporters in the local press comes from the licence fee. Members were encouraged to vote for a composite motion on the issue.
The meeting also heard from a rep from Al Jazeera who gave members an update on the chapel’s dispute on pay. Colleagues from a range of broadcasters offered messages of solidarity and support.
At the NUJ new media sector, members focused on organising in the digital sector. The union has seen an upsurge in digital chapels and there is a range of positive initiatives launching in workplaces.
Parts of the sector have been hostile to the unions and at BuzzFeed the NUJ is fighting a long and hard battle for recognition. One of the problems for workers in the digital sector has been company growth followed by retrenchment which has led to restructuring and job losses.
NUJ members at the sector conference shared anecdotes about their experiences of working as staff and freelances for digital companies, including information about pay rates, job cuts, contracts, home-working, company takeovers and restructuring - and how the union responded to each of the challenges. Delegates discussed alternative models of organising employment, such as co-operatives.
The gender pay gap – how to talk to employers about it and how the issue could be used to organise and recruit – was also a talking point for the magazines and book sector. Members were told the union was to make it a priority campaign and would be working with chapels and providing information for members. Priority motions, training relevant to the sector and ways that the union could do more to promote its role for people working in publishing were also discussed.