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Unions celebrate end of battle with pledge to fight for Irish freelances

31 May 2017

SIPTU and the NUJ today pledged to re-organise freelance workers in the arts, culture and media sector in Ireland as Dáil Eireann prepared to pass new legislation restoring trade union rights to their members.

The competition (amendment) bill 2016 will be voted upon tomorrow night, Thursday 1 June, and is expected to gain all-party support at report and final stages this evening.

The bill was tabled by senator Ivana Back and based on a similar bill drafted by Emmet Stagg TD. It restores the  automatic right of freelance workers in defined categories to be collectively represented by trade unions. Because of an interoperation of competiton law by the Competiton Authority, now the Consumer Protection and Competiton Commission, trade unions have been debarred from represented so called atypical workers. The Competition Authority viewed the workers as small business undertakings and the trade unions were faced with threats of criminal prosecution for seeking to set rates, collectively represent or even publish fees guides for freelances.

Union agreements have been under threat since 1997, when the regional newspaper owners threated to tear up an NUJ agreement, but it was the action of the Competiton Authority in prosecuting the Equity Group of SIPTU and their determination in August 2004 that a collective agreement on rates for voice over actors was "price fixing" which undermined the rights of freelances. Since then SIPTU and the NUJ, supported by the ICTU, have been fighting to have rights restored and the Labour sponsored bill, when passed into law, enables the negotiation of new agreements.  

At a joint function in Buswells Hotel, NUJ acting general secretary, Seamus Dooley and SIPTU divisional organiser Ethel Buckley announced that the unions are planning to devise a recruitment strategy in the sectors covered by the legislation. 

Séamus Dooley, said:

"This is a significant breakthrough for the trade union movement and shows the power of persistence. We should never have fallen victim to the ideological agenda of the Competition Authority’s narrow view of workers or collective agreements. Having won back the right to organise we face the challenge of organising within the sector but we do so with confidence. We also know that freelance workers, especially young workers, face exploitation and desperately need trade union representation."

Ethel Buckley, said:

"This has been a long struggle but we have persisted because activists in the NUJ, SIPTU, Equity and the Irish Musicians Union refused to give up. The use of competiton law to deny workers the right to collective representation was wrong. Other freelance workers will now use the legislation to secure representation rights. Tonight we thank all who helped us on this journey. We will rely on your support as we begin a renewed fight to defend freelance rights."

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Tags: , ireland, irish, freelance, employment rights, rate for the job, collective bargaining, trade union rights, trade unions, siptu, parliament ireland