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IFJ Congress: time to fight for freelance rights

4 June 2013

IFJ World Congress

"In an acceptable modern society, all citizens are subject to the same laws, but this is not the case in Ireland," declared Barry McCall, NUJ president, in a discussion on casual and freelance work at the IFJ world congress in Dublin.

He said that those citizens who worked for a living but were not fortunate enough to enjoy the legal status of employee were not even treated as citizens.

"They have no rights as citizens when it comes to their working lives and they are even prevented by law from banding together to try to reclaim those rights.
"And what happens next? When these people are no longer treated as citizens it is just a small stretch to strip them of any remaining status as workers. Does this mean that the minimum wage should no longer apply? Does this mean that basic health, safety, and other workplace legislation should no longer apply to them?
"These points have not been lost on employers. All of the evidence in the Irish economy indicates that all employment growth is in the part-time and casual area – in other words for workers with no rights.
"This is an outcome that will please the neo-liberal economic consensus, which puts competitiveness and the free market above basic human rights and to which Ireland has been offering a useful laboratory for the testing of their austerity and other theories. In their world, people are mere liabilities on national and corporate balance sheets and all policy must be directed towards reducing those liabilities to the minimum possible level."

But there was nothing new about this so-called neo-liberal thinking. It would have been very recognisable to the employers of Dublin in 1913 and the Victorian free traders who begat them.

Barry McCall concluded:

"In the city which Larkin and Connolly chose to make their home, it is time to shout stop to this crime against workers and the citizens of Ireland and indeed Europe. It is time to begin the fightback and demand and secure decent work for all."

Wolfgang Grebenhof of the German journalists union DJV told delegates that poverty was the greatest enemy of press freedom. Independence was the keystone of journalism, but how independent could journalists be if they lived in poverty?

This was not an issue of straightforward corruption, but little signs of appreciation or gestures of appreciation which, if accepted, could damage independence.

In Europe, thousands of jobs in journalism have been lost in recent years. But many people gave up their jobs simply because they could not afford to live on their pay any more. For many, it was almost like winning the lottery to be still paid on the basis of a collective agreement.

Most newspapers in Germany still had a profit margin of between 8 per cent and 14 per cent, he told conference. But publishers were happy to join in the chorus that journalism must become cheaper, so that people ran away from journalism and it was rapidly losing its status.

So, there was less independence, less plurality of opinion and less investigation. Many journalists were choosing to enter public relations, and many publishers were happy about that because it provided free, one-sided copy.

Employers were scaring away new entrants, endangering the future of the profession.

Wolfgang Grebenhof said:

"Sooner or later there may be a free press, free of journalists."

Yury Lukanov, chair of the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, told delegates of the courage displayed by journalists in his country in fighting to defend their rights and the integrity of their work.

The 28th World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists is taking place in Dublin.

Tags: , ifj, dublin, freelance, Jim Larkin, James Connolly