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TUC Congress 2016

13 September 2016

The TUC Congress 2016 takes place in Brighton.

The NUJ delegation includes NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, president Tim Dawson, vice-president Sian Jones and NEC member Pennie Quinton.

Watch the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, address Congress 2016:

NUJ motion 22: Surveillance and blacklisting

Congress congratulates the contribution of whistleblowers to our society, and believes that those who challenge dangerous, illegal or reckless practice on the part of employers (or others) by expressing their concerns to their trade unions or journalists play a vital role in safeguarding workers.

Congress believes the growing use of state surveillance to access journalists’ communications and expose whistleblowers’ identities undermines press freedom  and democracy.

Congress notes the journalistic and union activity of six NUJ members were monitored and placed on a 'domestic extremism database' by the Metropolitan Police. It further notes the extensive targeting and blacklisting of trade unionists, now the subject of the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover police operations. Revelations of the secret accessing of journalistic data through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act further lifted the lid on how extensive this culture of improper surveillance on journalists and whistleblowers has become.

Congress congratulates the NUJ and others for obtaining significant amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill currently before Parliament – including protecting unions from state surveillance – but believes further changes are vital. Safeguards should apply across the powers set out through the Bill; any surveillance of journalists should be subject to prior notice with the opportunity to challenge such a demand to  a judge.

Congress calls on the General Council to campaign robustly against the growing surveillance culture and to lobby hard to secure further amendments to this dangerous Bill in order to safeguard journalism and whistleblowers, and to continue to campaign to put an end to blacklisting.

Amendments proposed by Unite the Union (accepted):

1) Add new final paragraph - "Congress applauds Unite, UCATT, GMB and the Blacklist Support Group in achieving compensation for workers blacklisted by 44 construction companies.

2) In existing final paragraph add at end: "and call a national day of action to highlight the urgent need for better law to make the punishment fit the crime and protect workers from surveillance and contemporary blacklisting."

Theresa May's surveillance bill is chilling - The investigatory Powers Bill is a direct attack on democracy that will put journalists in danger and prevent whistleblowers coming forward,says Michelle Stanistreet in the Morning Star

Michelle Stanistreet

Picture credit: Tim Dawson.

Speaking to motion, Michelle Stanistreet, said:

"For journalists, this ill-thought out, knee-jerk piece of legislation is professionally devastating. One of the core principles journalists hold dear is their responsibility to protect their sources. Reporters have long been prepared to go to prison rather than be forced to give up their source or whistleblower in court. Yet this law will take away that ability."
"How can potential whistleblowers who know they are in receipt of information that should be in the public domain have faith and trust to come forward and speak out to journalists, if their identities and their livelihoods can't be protected in the process? And what future stories could never come to light as a consequence. Stories like the recent leak of the Panama Papers from an anonymous source who used encrypted digital communications. Or the BBC Panorama investigation that revealed how dozens of disabled patients were abused by members of staff at the Winterbourne View care home. Or the MP expenses scandal." 

Michelle urged delegates to support the motion and said the NUJ would continue to campaign against the bill based on the union's ethical code of conduct and long-standing principles.

Assistant general secretary of Unite, Gail Cartmail, supported the motion and called for a full public inquiry into blacklisting. She called for a TUC day of action and said: 

"Unite, along with sister unions and the Blacklist Support Group have campaigned for better and tougher laws on blacklisting winning the support of politicians in Westminster, Holyrood, the Welsh Assembly and councils the length and breadth of the UK."

Delivering freelance rights - Britain’s freelance journalists face the same lack of security as other self-employed workers - and they need union protection too, says Tim Dawson in the Morning Star

Composite Motion c18: Rights for freelance and atypical workers
(Motion 72 and amendment and motion 73)

Congress notes that atypical working continues to increase across the economy and that the number of self-employed and freelance workers is rising year on year.

Congress notes that self-employed workers comprise more than 15 per cent of the UK’s labour force - the greatest number since records began. Average self-employed earnings fell by 22 per cent in the six years to 2014, and freelances have often been the first casualty of cuts.

Congress recognises that self-employed workers are critical to the creative industries. It further notes that many companies, particularly in the media industry, have increased casualisation of work at the same time as cutting numbers of staff.

Congress calls on the General Council to raise awareness among affiliates about the needs of freelance workers, particularly creating rights to: collective bargaining; fair contracts; intellectual property; and access to the benefits system.

As part of its Making Tax Digital Roadmap, published in 2015, the government has proposed that all self-employed workers should submit a quarterly report in an approved format to HMRC. These reforms, which will be included in the 2017 Finance Bill, will increase administrative burdens on self-employed workers who have irregular working patterns, frequently travel for work or may be digitally excluded.

A greater frequency in errors could also arise from quarterly reporting which in turn would result in an increase in the penalties levied on self-employed workers. There are also concerns that, over time, quarterly reporting could also lead to a requirement on self-employed workers to pay tax quarterly.

In sectors such as construction where false self-employment is endemic, assignments are temporary and there is frequent movement between PAYE and self-employment, workers will be especially vulnerable to errors and missed deadlines.

Congress resolves to:

i) support campaigning and lobbying undertaken by unions to ensure that self-employed workers are given a choice about which methods they use to comply with their taxation obligations

ii) campaign for proposals to be delayed until false self-employment is eradicated

Congress further resolves to:

a) call for the reform of HMRC rules that threaten self-employed workers’ tax status if they accept employer-funded training

b) assess and monitor the impact of digital taxation on self-employed workers

c) lobby the International Labour Organisation to adopt a Convention on atypical workers that encompasses the above principles

d) support the efforts of unions to organise and represent atypical workers.

The motion was moved by Equity and seconded by the NUJ.

Tim Dawson

Picture credit: Pennie Quinton.

Speaking to the freelance motion, Tim Dawson, said:

"In Britain the number of self-employed people is rising ... more than 15 per cent of the workforce, the highest level of all time" and these workers often have "no holidays, sick pay or pensions - many have to reconcile themselves to earning below the minimum wage, or to work dangerously, simply to make ends meet."
"The National Union of Journalists has been organising freelance workers since 1907. We recruited them, we negotiated on their behalf and when the need has arisen we have called them on strike. We are not alone, I know - I salute all those involved in the Sports Direct campaign and their antecedents who fought piece rate in factories and casualisation in the docks."   

The NUJ supported Bectu's motion 67: Free TV licences for the over-75s

Congress is committed to support and benefits for elderly citizens and other vulnerable groups, and continues to believe that free TV licences for the over-75s are a welcome social provision.

Congress believes that such payments should be made from the public purse with money collected through the tax system, to ensure that the cost is fairly spread, and the benefits are clearly seen to be part of our welfare system.

Congress is therefore dismayed at the agreement struck last year between the BBC and the government, under which the cost of these free TV licences will transfer from the Treasury to the BBC itself. This equates to a cut in funding by 2020 which is estimated by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be £745m a year, nearly one fifth of the BBC’s current licence fee income. After a five-year freeze in licence increases, this loss of revenue will lead to reductions in services, range and diversity of programming, as well as wide-scale job losses and pressure on working conditions. These will diminish the UK’s main public service broadcaster, which is not only valued by domestic audiences for its TV, radio, and online content, but is admired throughout the world for its objective and impartial content.

Congress is alarmed by this prospect of a declining BBC and calls on the General Council to campaign for a revised funding formula which will maintain levels of service in all BBC output.

Sian Jones

Picture credit: Tim Dawson.

The NUJ's Sian Jones spoke to the motion and said:

"The deal done between George Osborne and the BBC last year is a disaster for the Corporation. It’s a financial and bureaucratic millstone which will lead to job cuts, reduced output and lower quality standards from our wonderful – but already stretched – public service broadcaster." 
"The deal which was done imposes the fiscal responsibility of providing free licences for over-75s onto the BBC - lumping the entire annual cost of £745 million onto the BBC and in doing so created a budget gap of 20 per cent." 
"Our members are paying the price - they’re paying with their jobs and they’re paying with their health through stress and unpaid overtime." 
"The BBC isn’t perfect but everyone will have something they value in it - whether you’re a fan of Bake Off, Match of the Day or Radio 4’s Today Programme, or perhaps like me it’s the advert-free CBeebies channel which brings the joy of Andy’s Dinosaur Adventure to your toddler and the local news and weather - there is much to celebrate from our main public service broadcaster." 
"We are obviously not against free TV licences for over-75s, but it has no place under BBC management and the responsibility must be taken back by government."
Bectu Tweet

The NUJ also supported Equity's motion 64: channel 4

Congress commends the TUC and the Federation of Entertainment Unions in their campaigning efforts to protect the BBC but is alarmed about speculation concerning the future of Channel 4. As a publicly owned broadcaster freed from shareholder pressures, Channel 4 commissions a range of original drama, comedy and entertainment and has specific responsibilities to nurture new talent, to reflect cultural diversity, to show alternative viewpoints and to invest in film.

The privatisation or part-privatisation of Channel 4 could lead to an erosion of Channel 4’s remit, leading to a reduction in content for diverse audiences. Any reduction in such programming could affect the employment opportunities available to performers and other creative workers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds.

After privatisation, or part-privatisation, there is also a risk that Channel 4’s budgets could be cut and schedules would feature much more bought-in content and repeats. This would not be in the interest of UK audiences and would have an adverse effect on the independent production sector.

Congress agrees that the TUC will:

i) publicly state the importance of Channel 4 to the UK’s audiovisual industries

ii) campaign to resist the privatisation or part privatisation of Channel 4

Pennie Quinton

Picture credit: Tim Dawson.

Pennie Quinton said Channel 4 is a "unique" British institution and she argued its most important work is the journalism produced - including the award winning documentary series Dispatches. Penny also highlighted other quality programmes including Escape From Isis, Children On The Frontline and Hunted. Pennie said:

"The unions and other supporters have mounted a magnificent campaign and there are signs that the government is not now as committed to George Osbourne’s privatisation plan as it once was.If that is the case, then that campaign provides some important lessons for the rest of our work.
"When the idea of privatisation was floated, unions and other supporters went into overdrive - lobbying ministers, getting supportive MPs on board and creating an alliance in the House of Lords to front out our opposition."

Pennie called Channel 4 "a genuine beacon of diversity and progressive values in the British broadcasting landscape" and asked delegates to support the motion.

Pennie Quinton tweet

Motion C08: Challenging the politics of hate
The composited motion C08 (includes motions 23 and amendment, 24, 25 and 26)

Congress notes with concern that following the EU referendum result there has been an upsurge in racial violence, harassment and hate crime in communities across the UK and a fivefold increase of reporting race-hate complaints. Across the UK, racist attacks on Black communities, refugees and those perceived to be of migrant backgrounds rose dramatically.

Congress condemns the disgraceful racism and scaremongering over immigration during the EU referendum campaign and the increase in racist incidents that have followed. The Leave campaign’s content and tone was based on the fear of migrants and foreigners designed to ferment alarm and a siege mentality of the UK being overrun by millions of migrants. The Remain campaign failed to challenge this racist rhetoric or advocate the positive contribution of immigrants to the UK, historically or otherwise.

Congress notes that this has given some people comfort and confidence to racially abuse and harass migrants, people of colour and people of Muslim faith and even target migrant children. This racist behaviour such as assaults, fire-bombing and graffiti has been reported across the UK including on social media. Even in London the police received 599 allegations of racist abuse over the 24 hours following the vote. It has highlighted the continued vulnerability of refugees, migrants and the UK’s long-established Black communities to racist attacks.

Congress believes that the vote for Brexit was largely based on disillusionment and political disengagement in many communities that have suffered from underfunded public services and chronic unemployment for decades. The Migration Impacts Fund set up in 2008 to provide £50m to ease the pressure of immigration on housing, schools and hospitals was scrapped by the Tories in 2010.

Congress notes that this has been decades in the making, with scaremongering and demonization of immigrants accompanied by legislative attacks on migrants and refugees. Over the past six years there has been a growth in racism created by the right-wing media and the government’s increasingly vitriolic rhetoric on immigration, including the introduction of policies such as Theresa May’s 'Go Home' vans.

In a similar way the Prevent agenda has been forced on our colleges, universities and schools, contributing to the present atmosphere of surveillance, racial stereotyping and Islamophobia. This agenda seeks to monitor places of learning and scholarly study, and forces staff to monitor their students and thus threatens staff-student relations as well as academic freedom. Congress calls on the TUC to continue to support affiliates in their campaign against the Prevent duty and in defence of academic freedom and calls for the government to review the policy.

The referendum result has encouraged and provided legitimacy for the open expression of such prejudice. Anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric and xenophobic language also characterises much political and media discourse about Britain’s ethnic and religious minorities.

Congress fears that ‘Brexit’ will be used as an excuse for yet more attacks on migrant workers as well as the removal of workplace rights regarded as 'red tape'. This will exacerbate the UK’s economic problems, leave public services reeling, divide our communities and lead to a race to the bottom at work. The only real answer to low pay and exploitation for all workers is stronger employment rights protections, stronger collective bargaining and trade union solidarity against racism.

Congress condemns UKIP and the Tory right for channelling the injustice felt in many working class communities into blaming migration and migrants for low pay, unemployment, housing shortages and poor public services.

Congress believes that trade unions must take the lead in defending the contribution and rights of migrants and refugees against any attempts to use the referendum result as an excuse for the imposition of further measures that will inflame public discourse against refugees and migration and will increase their vulnerability to exploitation and discrimination. It is vital that the Brexit negotiations, and freedom of movement in particular, are free from xenophobia. 

Congress calls on the General Council to develop a new anti-racism campaign that is integrated with an active anti-cuts, anti-austerity campaign, including:

i) engaging with people over the issue of immigration by opposing cuts in education and health services and calling for a house building programme

ii) providing a clear alternative economic policy that will provide decent jobs and hope for the future

iii) leading and coordinating a recruitment campaign directed at migrant workers

iv) arguing for the benefits of migration and the free movement of workers

v) opposing any attempt by politicians to use the EU vote to restrict the rights of migrant workers and refugees

vi) standing alongside sister trade unions across Europe in solidarity against those who seek to divide workers and abuse the migration crisis for political ends.

Congress recognises that the TUC and many affiliates have a proud and honourable history of challenging and confronting racism at work or in society as shown by the Unite Against Racism and Respect campaigns of the 90s. The trade union movement must stand at the forefront of tackling racism both at work and in our communities and congress commends the work already being done across the movement to challenge racism.

Congress calls on the TUC to work with unions and campaign groups in a renewed focus on tackling racism in the workplace and beyond to:

a) launch a well-resourced Stand up to Racism campaign to condemn these attacks and continue the fight against hatred and racism

b) work with community and anti-racist organisations to arrange a national trade union anti-racist demonstration

c) lead and coordinate a recruitment campaign directed at migrant workers

d) develop resources and materials to be used in workplace campaigns to support activists, both to challenge incidences of racism and proactively to display a united, zero-tolerance approach to racism.

The motion was proposed by GMB, UNISON, PCS, UCU and USDAW and supported by the NUJ.

Sian Jones spoke in support of the motion and said:

"The NUJ campaigns for race equality and for fair treatment and representation of Black people in the media.
"We believe that our members working in newspapers, television, radio, photo journalism, magazines, books, online and in PR have a responsibility to stop racism being expressed in the media.
"Yes we uphold the virtue of media freedom; but media freedom must be underpinned by ethical reporting.
"We say to our members that they should have the right to withhold their labour on grounds of conscience where employers are providing a platform for racist propaganda.
"My union has produced Race Reporting Guidelines and these are made available to our members and are disseminated in newsrooms.
"There’s absolutely no place in our society for racism."

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Tags: , tuc congress, trade unions, surveillance, investigatory powers bill, freelance, race reporting, racism, brexit, channel 4, privatisation