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#DM18: Union finances

Delegates line up to speak in the finance debate  -  © Paul Herrmann

21 April 2018

John Barsby, honorary NUJ treasurer, opened the NUJ's delegate meeting on Saturday morning presenting the union's finances report.

He reminded delegates of the financial crisis the union faced some years ago and stressed the proposal to increase the union subscription was the first of its kind in four years.

Michelle Stanistreet had prioritised getting finances back on track and delivering a major renovation project, he reminded delegates.

Changes in the accounting regulations and the impact of the Brexit referendum result had knocked a notional £1.8 million off the value of the union’s main asset, its Headland House headquarters, but all the building’s offices had now been let and were providing a steady revenue stream.

"We have a great future. United we can and will continue to achieve great things," he said.

DM 2018Barry McCall, left, representing the NEC, proposed motion 70, instructing the union to amend the rules to increase membership subscriptions. Barry said the increases were needed to sustain all the union's essential activity. Gerry Carson from the Irish executive council said: "We must protect the services available to members."

Natasha Bernal, below, from the magazine and book industrial council opposed the motion and said the proposals: "unfairly impact on low-earning members more than the higher paid" but Mark Fisher, representing the freelance industrial council, supported the motion and said: "I want a union that is powerful and well resourced." DM 2018

 Chris Wheal from the London magazine branch called on the NUJ to recruit and organise a mass union that included low-paid workers rather than a small union for wealthy journalists. 

Michelle Stanistreet on behalf of the NEC said: "Last time we met we made changes to our subs structure to introduce a fairer, more transparent system based on earnings, not sectors – something that successive DMs had demanded over many years." She added: "It is important to protect our low-paid members, and we already have flexibility and protections, including reduced contributions. There are lots of different and special offers in place.

"We pride ourselves on the level of service given to members, I genuinely believe it is second to none in the trade union movement and that is not a culture I would ever want to see change."

The motion did not achieve the two-thirds majority of the delegated present to be carried.  

Motion 71 instructed the NEC to confirm that NUJ life members were entitled to all the benefits enjoyed by full members, including legal support. Wiltshire branch delegate, Tony Gosling, moved the motion which urged conference to clarify the rules and the motion was passed. Chris Frost, speaking for the NEC, emphasised that the rule book already gave parity to life members and they were already entitled to the same support as other NUJ members.

Jim Boumelha spoke to motion 73 on behalf of the NEC to say that the only assistance fund in the world for journalists funded by journalists was the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) safety fund.

Delegate meeting acknowledged with sadness the marking by the IFJ of 25 years of publishing the annual global killing of journalists report. The IFJ recorded 2,297 killings of journalists and media workers in targeted assassinations, cross-fire incidents and bomb attacks.

Murder had become the easiest, perhaps the cheapest and most effective way, of silencing journalists.

DM 2018Jim Boumelha said the fund did not receive any money from governments, charity or the media industry and added that NUJ contributions over the years had been small. Some branches and individuals have contributed to the fund and were thanked for doing so but he also urged the NUJ to be at the forefront of global efforts to bolster the IFJ safety fund for journalists.

Since that fund was launched in 1992 it had delivered more than Euros 2 million in assistance to journalists and their families who suffered intimidation, discrimination, or physical violence, paying for media aid, health and welfare as well as legal aid.

The motion was seconded by the Manchester and Salford branch representative, Rzhwan Jaff. He said the voice of exiled journalists should be heard in the debate and the support provided was always appreciated. DM 2018

The motion was passed, instructing the NEC to incorporate an agreed central allocation of money for the IFJ safety fund as part of the union's annual budgeting process and the motion also called on the NEC to encourage branches, chapels and all members to make regular donations.

Motion 74 was moved by the newspapers and agencies industrial council representative, Mark Johnson. He said potential new members were often young and in debt and added that the union should look at the online data available on recruitment and retention to inform the NUJ's strategies. The motion was seconded by Liz Else from the London magazine branch. She said the union needed to collect real evidence, and to analyse trends to ensure it was effective as an organisation.

The motion was passed and instructs the NEC to:

  • organise a study of the likely benefits of offering lower membership subscriptions for first-time joiners and those earning less than £30,000;
  • regularly repeat training for union reps on recruitment and retention of members;
  • distribute relevant membership data to union councils and branches;
  • provide an analysis of the trends from membership applications and to publish the information in future reports to delegate meetings.

DM 2018Motion 75 was moved by the Birmingham and Coventry branch representative, Francis Clarke. The motion proposes a rule change to increase the union's death benefit from £600 to £750. Francis said that the motion was based on local experience when a member died and had to be repatriated to Ireland. He added that the money provided a real benefit for members' families. The motion needed a two-thirds majority of the votes at conference and was passed by delegates.

Motion 76 was proposed by Adam Di Chiara from the London magazine branch. He said it was important to look in detail at how to change the structure of membership subscriptions. The motion was seconded by Natasha Bernal from the magazines and books industrial council who said the principle of the union was to work together and those that earn less should pay less to the union and those that earn more should pay more.

The motion was carried and instructed the NEC to bring a motion to DM 2020 to amend the rules to change subscriptions thresholds and introduce an additional grade for higher-waged new members.

Motion 77 was moved by Bill MacKeith from the magazine and books industrial council. He said that, while the responsibilities of industrial councils were considerable, he noted that councils put in claims to the finance committee. He called for a transparent process so members were better able to understand budgetary decisions.

Barry McCall, speaking on behalf of the NEC, said the motion described the situation as it was now – he had been involved in the NUJ budgeting process for about 10 years and it couldn't be more transparent.

However, the motion was passed and it instructed the NEC to take into account the existing responsibilities of NUJ councils specified in the union's rule book, and to introduce a transparent system so councils could understand how the NEC arrived at its financial decisions.

Tags: , dm2018, #DM18, john barsby, finances, subscriptions