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The impact we can have as journalists when we’re at our best - #heartunions

© NUJ

8 February 2016

George Morris, an NUJ Yorkshire Weekly Newspaper Group Chapel representative

Holding the powerful to account, standing up for the most vulnerable, championing your community, giving ordinary people a way to make their voices heard - that’s the impact we can have as journalists when we’re at our best.

For me, it’s also what the National Union of Journalists is all about. It’s a way to publicly question the chief executives who take home hefty bonuses while laying off reporters, to tackle bullying in our workplaces, to promote the best standards of journalism and to stand beside our colleagues in the toughest times.

Most people only hear about unions when a national strike is imminent, and they know little about the activities of reps and members in workplaces up and down the country every day.

I joined the NUJ as a trainee reporter in 2008 and have been a rep in my workplace for several years now. I’ve benefited from training funded by my union and the support of a network of other reps and officials as well as that of the members I represent.

We have successfully campaigned for equal pay between offices, winning better pay for not just the current members but all the reporters who will follow them.

We helped secure permanent roles for long-term freelancers who were expected to carry out the same work as staff reporters for less pay and without the benefits of sick pay, paid holiday or pension contributions.

When we saw firsthand the terrible effects of work-related stress on colleagues, we ran Heath and Safety Executive surveys to identify the problem areas and challenged managers to take action over spiralling workloads and working hours.

When colleagues were facing redundancy, we gave individual support in their meetings with management and arranged for them to get free advice from the NUJ’s legal team.

And when more job cuts were on the cards, we ran a campaign to make the public aware of what was happening behind the scenes at their local papers. The messages of support sent by all kinds of people from local community groups to MPs and peers - and the anger they felt at the cutbacks proposed - were a reminder to us all that the work we do really is valued.

We don’t win every fight, of course, and the challenges facing the regional press can sometimes feel overwhelming. But it’s then that I most value being part of a profession that has a union, a way for me to work alongside others who want to make a positive change and not just stand by or grumble on the sidelines.

It’s why I’m concerned that the government is seeking to bring in new legislation through its trade union bill which will make it harder than ever for unions like ours to effectively represent their members.

There are some great employers out there who work well with unions and understand that by listening to their employees they can improve wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity in their workplaces.

But there are just as many for whom consulting staff about changes is a tick box exercise, whose reckless pursuit of short-term profits puts the entire future of their companies at risk, and whose abuse of their employees’ goodwill leaves staff pushed to breaking point just to get their jobs done.
These are the kind of employers who would not think twice about using agency workers to break strikes given the chance, and who will refuse to negotiate with unions if we become so tied up in red tape that carrying out effective industrial action is no longer available to us as a last resort.

The bill represents an attack on existing rights to protest, the privacy of union members and on the voice that the trade union movement gives to ordinary workers like me. It is a worrying step backward for democracy and one which must be opposed by us all.

The NUJ is supporting the TUC week of action #heartunions to celebrate the work of the trade union movement and to campaign against the government's divisive trade union bill.

Tags: , yorkshire weekly newspaper group, union reps, heartunions, tuc, trade union bill