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TUC Congress 2014

9 September 2014

TUC Congress backed motions calling for a government-commissioned inquiry into the future of local papers and a campaign to defend the principle of public broadcasting and the BBC's licence fee.

Congress also backed an NUJ motion calling for the TUC to support and promote an agreement by the ILO Global Dialogue Forum on Employment Relationships in the Media to ensure that workers' rights should apply to all, regardless of employment status.

The theme of conference was Britain Needs a Pay Rise and delegates passed a motion calling for a minimum wage of £10 an hour, more than 50 per cent higher than the rate currently set for workers over the age of 21.

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, focused her speech on the social and financial inequalities in the UK. She described it as a Downton Abbey-style society, "in which the living standards of the vast majority are sacrificed to protect the high living of the well to do? Where the blame is heaped on the most vulnerable – migrants and claimants – while the powerful and the privileged sit pretty".

Sian Jones, NUJ national executive member, proposed the motion protecting the rights of the atypical worker. She said:

"This motion highlights a vulnerable group - namely freelance and other 'atypical' workers who are often at risk because of their employment status.
"Let's be clear - it is their employment status which is atypical - not the worker! Freelances rarely receive holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions, training or other provisions which permanent employees enjoy. Freelances also find it harder to raise complaints or concerns over bullying and harassment and are more likely to be isolated at work. They are often forgotten and have relatively few employment rights."

In May, the NUJ raised the issue at the International Labour Organisation's Global Dialogue Forum on Employment Relationships in the Media in Geneva and won agreement on the wording: "Fundamental principles and rights at work apply to all workers in the media and culture sector, regardless of the nature of their employment relationship." The TUC motion called for the need to promote gender diversity and for good practice guidelines covering internships, apprenticeships, volunteering and other placement schemes.

Sian said:

"Let's not forget about freelancers. Let's put protection for all workers at the heart of the ILO."

Andy Smith, NUJ joint-president, moved the NUJ's motion calling for a government-commissioned inquiry into the local press which would look at consideration of different models of ownership, how to encourage a more diverse local press and to see how titles could be protected as community assets. He said:

"On a daily basis we’re called upon to support our members dealing with the redundancies, the reorganisations, the stress, the frustration as they watch papers they care passionately about being slowly destroyed by owners protecting absurd profit margins and managing decline rather than investing in quality journalism and planning for the future.
"Despite the bad news, I do believe local newspapers have a future. But it’s not a future where recycled press releases and readers' photos are thrown together under a regional masthead, one line on a balance sheet of some multi-national giant, vulnerable to decisions made by people who know precious little about the titles they own and nothing at all about where you live."

The motion was seconded by Nigel Gawthrope, a Cambridge city councillor and Unite delegate. He said newspapers should be holding people like him – local politicians – to account. He said the decline in local papers had meant the loss of jobs for printers and journalists. He said journalists were so understaffed they were being forced to recycle press releases than go out and get stories; this was a disservice to the readers and local democracy.

Read NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet's article Our once proud papers turned into sweatshops in the Morning Star.

BBC producer and NUJ delegate, David Campanale, spoke to an Equity motion on defending the BBC. He said the BBC at its best is a celebration of the common good, placing public values above the interests of capital. But as it faces charter renewal in 2017, the anti-BBC lobby was gearing up.  He said:

"The licence fee brings freedom from the pressures of advertising and the commercial imperative. But it also has that virtue which no company paymaster can ever buy with a cheque: the public’s trust. For the BBC treats its viewers and listeners as citizens rather than consumers.
"The BBC through its values and World Services has built up the trust of the world. So the BBC's ambition of doubling its global audience to 500m is achievable because it is seen to be in no one's pocket.  For these reasons it's no surprise then it’s the BBC licence fee that’s in the cross-hairs of its opponents. And why the union movement must fight to defend it."

He said the campaign must involve fighting for media ownership rules that guarantee media plurality.

"No media corporation must ever again be able to wield such power and inflict such corruption on British society as Rupert Murdoch's which has for the past 30 years been allowed to call in favours from all political parties."

Congress heard from Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, who warned delegates that interest rates would be raised before wages are expected to increase, next summer.

Keynote speeches and other information on the TUC website

Congress 2014, Liverpool 7-10 September

The motions in full:

The Future of Local Newspapers

Congress notes the continuing crisis in local newspapers:
More than 140 newspapers closed since March 2011.

  • Local paid-for daily newspapers losing subscribers at 14% a year and weeklies by 8%.
  • Advertising revenues predicted to fall by more than 8% this year.
  • A quarter of local government areas not covered by a daily local newspaper.
  • A further 35% covered by only one daily newspaper, with three quarters of these monopolies controlled by just three companies – Newsquest, Trinity Mirror and Local World.

Local newspaper owners are attempting to fill their papers with free copy and photographs submitted by readers whilst struggling to service debts incurred by ill-judged acquisition strategies. Short-term management strategies aimed at protecting shareholder value are achieving the opposite, with huge cuts in staff numbers, unacceptable workloads and stress, and insufficient investment in digital services, threatening the long-term future of the industry.

Congress recognises the efforts of the NUJ in defending jobs and quality journalism; journalism that provides entertainment, holds local politicians and businesses to account, and supplies vital community information.

Congress calls on the General Council and affiliates to support a campaign for a government-commissioned inquiry into the future of local newspapers, to consider new models of ownership and how newspapers can be protected as community assets, limiting owners' ability to close publications overnight and allowing time for consultation to protect their future.

Congress reaffirms its commitment to campaigning for reform of newspaper ownership, greater plurality and a more diverse press.

International support for freelance and atypical workers

Congress welcomes the positive outcome, in particular for freelance and other 'atypical' workers, of the ILO Global Dialogue Forum on Employment Relationships in the Media and Culture sector held on 14-15 May 2014.

The Forum emphasised that fundamental principles and rights apply to all workers regardless of their employment relationship and that competition law should not be used to undermine employment rights.

The Forum further recognised the need for governments and social partners to promote gender diversity and for good practice guidelines covering internships, apprenticeships, volunteering and other placement schemes. The media industry is one where jobs have become increasingly casualised and where the competition for work has seen a drastic rise in the number of young aspiring journalists being exploited through unpaid internships.

The discussions and the consensus reached underlines the potential benefits  of greater involvement by the TUC and its affiliated unions in international affairs and inter-union cooperation both in recruitment and campaigns to defend and enhance the rights of workers, nationally and internationally.

Congress calls on the general council to encourage and, as necessary, assist affiliates to participate in similar international forums. Congress further calls on the TUC's delegation to the ILO's 322nd Session in November 2014 to support and then work to promote and seek to implement the conclusions of this Global Dialogue Forum.

Defending the BBC
Congress believes that an independent and well-funded BBC is the bedrock of public service broadcasting in the UK.

Congress also believes that the BBC is able to produce the breadth and diversity of output across television, radio and digital services that it does today and to act as a standard bearer for the audio-visual sector in terms of jobs, production values, quality and innovation only because of its unique source of licence fee funding.

Congress further believes that the BBC’s scope, scale, remit and commitment to
high quality original output protects the audience from declining standards and from broadcasting companies who would prefer to feed the audience drama imports mainly from the US a or home-grown reality shows which cost little to purchase or produce.

Congress notes with alarm the increasingly emboldened anti-BBC lobby whose aim is the break-up and sell-off of the BBC and its publicly owned assets to the private sector.

Congress calls on the General Council, in the lead-up to BBC c harter renewal in 2016, to support the Federation of Entertainment Unions’ campaign to defend both the principle of public service broadcasting and also the BBC as the UK’s broadcaster funded by the licence fee.

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