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Freelance workers need more rights

8 September 2016

New forms of work and the growing trend towards self-employment and freelancing must not be used as an opportunity for new forms of exploitation. That was the message of the NUJ at a seminar hosted at the European Parliament to discuss the future of work in the arts, media and entertainment sector.

Representing the union were President Tim Dawson and Seamus Dooley, assistant general secretary, who told the conference that Irish freelance workers are being denied the right to be represented by the NUJ as a result of competition policy and he called on the Commission to stop allowing competition policy to be used to deny freelance workers' rights enjoyed by other workers.

He said Europe would be diminished without freelance writers, artists and musicians. But, these workers without the right of trade union representation and other rights enjoyed by other workers, they are doomed to lives of poverty and exclusion.

Seamus Dooley said:

 "We need to redefine competition so that it recognises the rights of workers, rather than granting competition law a hallowed place above cherished human rights and freedoms, such as the right of freedom of association and all that springs from that right. In a Social Europe the rights of workers, including so called atypical workers, cannot be sacrificed on the altar of an orthodoxy which worships the god of competition."

He said new ways of working should not mean new forms of exploitation:

 "Full-time workers who enjoy the fruits of collective bargaining enjoy a competitive advantage over vulnerable, atypical workers denied the right to bargain, the right to trade union representation - the right even to seek advice on minimum rights, ironically in the name of competition.

 "Competition law should never be used to disadvantage a group of workers over another. Nor should it be invoked to prevent a group of workers from collective representation because of the manner in which they work.
"Competition policy should also be consistent across Europe. We have the situation where some member states deny unions the right to collective represent freelance workers because they deem this to be a breach of EU competition law. In Ireland the government has clearly stated that European competition law does not allow an exemption for trade unions to represent freelance workers.

"No such restriction exits in the UK, still a member of the EU. There is no evidence that the ability of the NUJ to advise or represent journalists in Northern Ireland has contributed to the decline of the European economic structures. Equally the clampdown on freelance rights did not save the Irish economy from economic ruination!"

He said Europe must provide leadership so that the default position cannot be that any form of collective representation is automatically a breach of competition rules, a breach so great that all other rights are deemed subservient. He said:

"If Europe needs strong competition policy it also needs a strong, vibrant and diverse media and cultural sector. Without freelance writers, artists and musicians Europe is diminished. Without trade union representation and the social rights enjoyed by workers who are employed on contracts of service freelance workers are doomed to lives of poverty and exclusion."

Tags: , freelance, working practices, employment rights, european parliament, collective bargaining