NUJ at TUC Congress 2017
14 September 2017
The TUC has committed to campaign to support freelance workers and voted to back the NUJ's campaign for Al Jazeera at its annual conference this year.
Sian Jones, NUJ vice president, spoke to congress in support of composite eight, she said:
"Precarious employment affects many parts of the economy, but we in the NUJ are most concerned about the lack of rights for freelancers. We are not anti-freelance working. Freelancers often choose to work in this capacity because it suits them. However, there is a shocking anomaly in the way employers can treat freelance workers in comparison to their directly employed staff.
"By way of example, I’d like to tell you about Thomson Reuters – the international news agency – which last year decided to change its contractual relationship with some of its editorial workers. This involved Thomson Reuters moving from a freelance arrangement of sole traders, to requiring them instead to operate through limited companies. Some of our members weren't keen on the change – not least because the change means up to £600 a year in accountancy and compliance costs.
"They asked their union – the NUJ – to step in. However, the company – which I should point out the union has a longstanding constructive relationship with, including recognition to negotiate on behalf of staff journalists for decades – politely declined.
"Freelancers have no right to collective representation, regardless what proportion are union members. This is just one example of people being treated differently because of their employment status. Other rights lacking for freelancers include working time regulations, minimum wage laws, and of course job security.
"People working in the same workplace, the same newsroom, doing the same work, but because of their employment status are treated differently by their employer. The NUJ wants to see rights for freelancers and atypical workers improved. We believe that improving the rights of freelancers is the best way of reducing 'false freelancing' as bogus self-employment which takes the cost of employment away from employers and puts it onto workers."
The NUJ's campaign for freelance rights was part of composite eight. The 'great jobs' motion recognised the growing pressure on workers "to work harder and faster for less" and it acknowledged that every worker "should have basic rights and protections to include rights to holiday and sick pay, rights to trade union representation and recognition, and rights to the minimum wage." The motion also noted that the government-commissioned Taylor report failed to address the need to enhance rights at work.
The motion compels the TUC to develop a trade union manifesto, campaign for resources to enforce employment legislation, and advocate for a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts and a legal right for contracts to include hours. The motion also mandated the TUC to call on the government to remove the existing restrictions on access to trade union representation, and mobilise for a national demonstration on these issues of concern.
NUJ president, Tim Dawson, was one of the NUJ delegates at TUC Congress and he spoke in support of the union's motion on Al Jazeera. He said:
"Qatar is a slave state – not my words, but those of Sharran Burrows, the general secretary of the ITUC and 1.2 million workers are toiling in Qatar under what is known as the kafala system. Building workers, mostly from Nepal, Pakistan, India and the Philippines can only enter the country and work there if a Qatari sponsors them. As they enter the country, they surrender their passports, and their right to work for anyone else and their right to leave the Qatar without their employers’ permission.
"A great many live in make-shift hovels beside the building sites on which they work, slogging in heat so intense and humid that simply crossing a road is a real challenge, and as is well known, a shocking number have died – some estimates suggest that the death toll on world-cup related building sites is already close to 12,000 people. Little wonder then that the International Labour Organisation is considering a complaint about Qatar’s violation of the Forced Labour Convention of 1930. Let me be clear, Qatar’s medieval human rights record is not much different to its neighbours in the Gulf – you will find similarly shocking abuses in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. There is a difference, however, that makes it worth our while to single out Qatar at this moment.
"For the past two decades Qatar has been trying to make its presence felt beyond its own shores. That is why they put so much effort into ensuring that they host the 2022 world cup. That is why they established Al Jazeera, a broadcast network that encourages pluralistic, discussion-based programming where divergent views are encouraged. And it is because that outward-looking strategy has been successful that Qatar’s neighbours are feeling so threatened. That is why they have mounted a blockage on the country’s ports and issued the extraordinary demand that Al Jazeera be shut down.
"We want the TUC to add their voice to those who are seeking to use Qatar’s crisis to encourage it to take bolder steps towards creating a fair, progressive society, where all workers enjoy the rights that we consider a birth right, where trades unions are able to organise and where free speech and freedom of expression are treated as foundational human rights.
"The NUJ has a particular interest in this because we have a collective agreement with Al Jazeera’s London newsroom, alongside members of Bectu. This is the only collective bargaining agreement that exists with Al Jazeera globally and it was hard fought for. We want the collective efforts and wins for our chapel members here in the UK to be replicated for journalists who work in Al Jazeera newsrooms across the world.
"In June, the NUJ took part in an international conference in Doha dedicated to defending freedom of expression. The concluding statement of that conference, organised by the Qatari Human Rights Committee, resolved that respect for ILO conventions is vital to creating a society in which free speech can thrive. That concession, accepted by a body that is a part of the Qatari state says to me that change is possible in that country.
"That is why this is the moment, as trades unionists, as internationalists, as humanitarians we should say in the loudest voice possible to Qatar – when you respect the rights of workers from all over the world, the workers of the world will stand by you when your neighbours threaten your existence.
The full text of the NUJ's motion (76) on human rights in Qatar:
Congress notes with grave concern the humanitarian crisis in Qatar caused by the blockade imposed upon that country by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The sealing of the Saudi border and the closure of air and sea links to Qatar has led to the doubling of essential food prices. The blockade has imposed additional hardships on impoverished migrant workers who enjoy no employment rights as a result of the kafala labour sponsorship system. Congress supports the call by the ITUC for an end to the kafala exit-permit requirement so that workers who wish to return home are not trapped in Qatar. Congress is deeply disturbed by the demands by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that Qatar close the Al Jazeera and other media channels and platforms. In defending the right of Al Jazeera to operate free from external political interference Congress calls on management of the organisation to recognise trade unions and to reaffirm the right of journalists to operate independently. Congress reaffirms its belief that a free press underpins a free society. Congress calls on the TUC to increase pressure on government to use its influence to persuade members of the Saudi coalition to lift their demands in relation to Al Jazeera. It further calls on the TUC to make explicit its support for freedom of expression in all its work. Congress also notes and welcomes the declaration, adopted by the Freedom of Expression conference on July 25 in Doha that made explicit reference to the central role of trade unions in defending the right to freedom of expression and to the UN Convention on Human Rights and the necessity for adherence to the ILO Conventions.
Picture of Sian Jones © Tim Dawson
Picture of Tim Dawson © Pennie Quinton