NUJ at TUC Congress 2018
Michelle Stanistreet addressing TUC Congress - © private
Sian Jones addressing TUC Congress - © private
12 September 2018
TUC Congress this year took place in Manchester, the birthplace of British trade unionism 150 years ago. The NUJ delegation this year comprised the general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, president Siân Jones, and NEC members Steve Bird, Pennie Quinton, and Chris Frost.
Addressing the gender pay gap and achieving equal pay
The first NUJ motion tabled and discussed at Congress focused on equal pay and the gender pay gap. Michelle Stanistreet proposed the motion and it was passed unanimously. She said:
"Last year the BBC was forced by the government to publish pay details of its presenters and 'talent' earning more than £150,000. It soon became glaringly obvious what was going on at the corporation: two-thirds of those on that list were men and there were barely any black journalists among them.
"It exposed how presenters sitting on the same TV sofa, journalists doing the same job on high-profile radio programmes were getting paid massively different rates. NUJ member Carrie Gracie felt forced to come out fighting in public when she learned she was being paid less than the male international editors.
"The NUJ has since led the way in taking the corporation to task. There have been more than 200 equal pay claims involving NUJ members since, and the union has secured for many of these women an increase in their salaries, backdated wages and other payments. This is not a problem confined to the higher-paid – our research demonstrates this is an issue affecting all grades, from the lowest-paid upwards. Thanks to a lot of collective effort on behalf of the joint unions at the BBC, we're starting to see a change in culture and practice – including clearer salary structures and more transparency – although there’s still much more to do.
"By the time the deadline for the implementation of the gender pay gap audits came round in April – when it became mandatory for companies with more than 250 employees to reveal data on wage discrepancies and differentials in bonuses between the sexes on their staffs – the real scale of this problem hit home. There is a major societal gender pay problem in the UK, which is entrenching inequalities in too many of our workplaces.
"In the media sector, an astonishing 91 per cent of UK-based media companies paid men more than women on average, based on the mean hourly rate, and 85 per cent paid men got more in bonus pay.
"At Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, the women’s mean hourly rate was 37 per cent, meaning women earned 63p for every £1 that their male colleagues made.
"And where there’s a gender pay gap, you can almost guarantee that unequal pay is flourishing too. One of the positive consequences of the gross societal gender pay gap being exposed is that it’s got women talking about equal pay; it’s got people delving into issues that too often remain secret, a culture fostered by companies for their own ends. And, most importantly, it’s got women angry and we as trade unions can harness that rage and organise around it. Companies are also vulnerable because they’ve got no cogent defence for their appalling practices. Can there be anything much more galling than realising the colleague sitting next to you, who does the same job, and who may even have less experience than you, is getting better paid just because he is a bloke?
"We need to be pushing for real progression at work, genuinely family-friendly working practices that foster real equality of opportunities and pay, and cultural change that goes beyond the skin deep. We need fairer employment laws and we need to extend the provisions of the currently limited gender pay regulations and quicken the pace of change. Doing that – and being seen to be doing that – will ensure women know that, when it comes to equal pay, ending the pay gap and achieving real equality at work, a woman’s place and natural home is in her trade union, working to collectively eradicate this scourge of unequal pay."
The motion called on the TUC to press government to require companies with 50 staff or more to reveal gender-pay gaps and make all companies publish their plans to reduce the gap as part of the gender pay audit process. In addition, it called for companies that fail to address substantial gender pay gaps to be fined, and for the government to introduce penalties for companies that do not comply with the Equality Act 2010. The motion also called on the TUC to help trade unions lead the way on pay parity, including encouraging the use of equal pay surveys in workplaces and facilitating training for trade union equality reps and officials.
NUJ representative Pennie Quinton spoke in support of the composite motion on ending sexual harassment, and Steve Bird spoke in support of the motion on Turkey. Steve highlighted the desperate situation for journalists in the country, including those who have been targeted and jailed.
Improving standards and safeguards for night workers
NUJ president Siân Jones proposed the second NUJ motion tabled at TUC Congress on night working. She said:
"They keep us safe while we sleep, administer vital healthcare, ensure our shops and cafes are stocked for breakfast and edit your morning news. They are night workers. Almost 3.2 million of us now work nights.
"There's a quarter of million more night workers than five years ago but, while more of us are working through the night, unfortunately workplace safeguards are slipping.
"Working nights is just not the same as working during the day. Saying goodnight to your friends, family, and other colleagues while you are starting your working day is just the beginning of the body clock bingo.
"Night working is linked to health problems – including obesity, an increased risk of heart disease and some cancers and suspected contribution to stroke, stress and exhaustion. It can play havoc with family life, as Frances O’Grady pointed out in TUC research last year. The amenities and transport options we take for granted in the day are more often than not unavailable to night workers.
"Despite strong calls from the TUC last October for better rights and protections at work for night workers, sadly we’ve seen no progress.
"Across the media and creative industries, NUJ members find themselves being asked or required to work night shifts without reasonable safeguards and allowances. We know that older women in particular struggle with working overnight hours.
"And we hear stories every week of media workers coming off the night shift so tired they are almost falling asleep at the wheel driving home, something that is concerning and dangerous for us all.
"Perhaps most worryingly, we've seen an increased use of outsourced occupational health departments overturning the written letters of GPs and consultants advising that someone is not fit for night work. Who would have thought it? Outsourced private health experts paid for by employers backing up the position that those employers want. It sounds all too familiar, but it is a dangerous gamble with the health of workers.
"As the government's website spells out, it’s vital that employers take measures to protect the wellbeing of night workers, but we are concerned that current limits are not sufficient and that employers are pushing these limits in dangerous ways.
"A best-practice model should include strict limits on hours worked overnight - the current recommendation is no more than eight hours - and a weighting should be added to night hours worked. It should ensure a responsible rota system which allows people to reset their body clocks; consider additional payments or time off for working unsociable hours; and ensure safe and supportive transport arrangements for commuting to and from the workplace.
"We need to shine a light on the working standards these people encounter. Night workers deserve better."
The night work motion was passed by TUC Congress which also noted the growing army of people working unsocial hours in the UK. The motion instructed the TUC to campaign for better protections for night workers and to develop a best practice model for unions that includes a policy on night work that focuses on health, safety and welfare at work and the work/life balance of employees.
Defending journalism in the public interest
The third NUJ motion passed by TUC Congress was tabled as an emergency motion in response to the arrest last month of two Belfast-based journalists and NUJ members responsible for a documentary film highlighting collusion between the British Army, RUC police and Loyalist paramilitaries in an unsolved murder investigation in Northern Ireland.
The film, No Stone Unturned, sheds light on six unsolved murders and a violent attack on civilians in 1994 and contains information based on a leaked Police Ombudsman report.
NEC member and chair of the NUJ's ethics council, Chris Frost, proposed the motion and said:
"We are here this week because we want to live in a democratic society that respects us all, treats us fairly, equally, and upholds our human rights. Journalists play a vital role in that fight by holding those in authority to account.
"The new foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, spoke in the commons recently about the role of investigative journalism and the importance of exposing the bad things that those in authority do not want exposed, and for once I agreed with him.
"But he was talking about Myanmar not the UK, ignoring the fact that while he was condemning the arrests of journalists there, NUJ members Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were being arrested in Northern Ireland for the alleged theft of confidential documents; government documents about a matter of serious public interest that should have been reported to the public.
"It speaks volumes about this government that they can publicly chastise other countries while failing to condemn the same outrage in the UK. The arrest of two hard-working union members carrying out an important investigation involving police collusion with paramilitary groups in the murder of UK citizens is nothing short of an outrage.
"The Loughinisland massacre took place in 1994 but police failed to find the culprits. Their work has been investigated at least twice by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland; the first time identifying failings in the investigation and the second identifying that there had been collusion.
"The two journalists used the leaked documents to help build their investigation that turned into the film No Stone Unturned, premiered to critical acclaim in New York last September.
"Two weeks ago, and a good year after the documentary was completed, police raided two homes and an office in Belfast, seizing documents and computers and arresting the two journalists on suspicion of theft of confidential documents.
"It’s clear that the police hope to find the name of the person who leaked the documents, and that they also hope to find the names of other sources who the journalists have promised to keep confidential, and the journalists have had to go to the high court to prevent the police accessing the documents.
"Without source protection, investigative journalism becomes very difficult if not impossible. Journalists rely on whistleblowers – people with a conscience, or some other motive, who seek to expose wrong-doing but who do not want to ruin their own lives and those of their families.
"It is widely accepted throughout the world that this is an important protection. The European Court of Human Rights has instructed the British government on several occasions to ensure journalists in the UK are not obliged by the courts to reveal sources, but to no avail.
"Most journalists are willing to go to prison rather than reveal sources, but modern technology means that is not their choice. The police access contact phone numbers from phone companies, they seize computers and documents enabling them to search far wider than the original investigation to expose whistleblowers and confidential sources.
"Exposing confidential contacts is a tool of tyrannical states and criminals, and is something Congress through its general council should condemn.
"We ask that the Council be instructed to endorse the NUJ’s campaign and we encourage all trade unions to support the campaign by screening the film No Stone Unturned at union meetings.
"We also seek unequivocal support for the NUJ’s efforts to defend journalists and the public interest journalism that is so important for our democracy."
The motion was passed unanimously and it called for the immediate lifting of the threat of legal action against the journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The motion agreed that the TUC should condemn the targeting of whistleblowers and the criminalisation of journalists, endorse the NUJ campaign and disseminate related information via the TUC's e-newsletters and website, encourage trade union members to support the campaign by screening the film at trade union meetings and support the NUJ's efforts to defend public interest journalism and journalists.