DM 2021: Finance

  • 22 May 2021

Conference agreed to a subs increase.

John Barsby, the union's honorary treasurer, opened the conference session dedicated to discussing the union's finances by stressing the vital importance of the subscriptions increase to the NUJ's future. He urged all delegates to support the subs increase motion to ensure the NUJ can remain viable and survive.

Chris Frost moved the NEC motion proposing a subs increase (motion 25). He said that without the increase, the union would have to cut back or join with another union. There has been no increase in NUJ income over the last seven years. The NEC proposals to increase subs is designed to protect lower paid NUJ members and put the burden on those who are slightly higher paid. Low paid members can apply for a reduction in subs under the union's rules. The union has secured £16m for members this year.

The motion was seconded by Joyce McMillian from the Edinburgh freelance branch. She said that the last year shows just how much we all need the NUJ, and the union needs to be strong, the union's work is vital, and we need the union to maintain the level of service it provides to members. She said:

"We need an independent union and independent voice that speaks up for journalists and journalism for now and in the future".

Adam Bowen, on behalf of the BBC London branch, also spoke in favour of the subs increases proposed in motion 25. He said:

"No organisation could survive a nine-year freeze in income and today's vote is a vote for survival."

Cearbhall Ó Síocháin from the Irish executive council also spoke in support of motion 25 saying he wanted to ensure there are sufficient resources for the union and its members in Ireland.

Anna Wagstaff from the Oxford branch also spoke in favour and said:

"People join a union that delivers - and we have been delivering and that is the bottom line, if we don't deliver then we don't have a future … over the last year people have been under stress, people's incomes have been under stress but new members have joined the union because the NUJ has been responding to their needs."

The NEC's motion highlighted that NUJ subscription rates have remained static for seven years and prices have increased by 13.4 per cent in the same period. The NUJ's membership has inevitably been hit by the challenges in the industry, and whilst recruitment and organisation in digital workplaces has been on the increase, there is much more recruitment work to be done. Furthermore, the change in approach from the UK Pensions Regulator means that the NUJ's pension deficit payments significantly increased from 2020.

Whilst Covid-19 has not plunged the union into a financial crisis, it has left it with a significant deficit and seriously damaged the livelihoods of many members who now require the support of the union more than ever.

The motion said it is vital to increase the union's subs to reflect the increase of the cost of living and the challenges facing the union, and to enable the NUJ to sustain itself as an independent vibrant campaigning trade union.

The motion also said the increased income is critical for the NUJ to be able to continue to provide a high level of support and range of distinct services to NUJ members throughout the UK and Ireland.

Any new income would help to boost union organising and new campaigns to protect journalists and journalism. The NEC motion proposed an immediate increase in subs, alongside a vigorous recruitment campaign. The motion also proposed to amend the NUJ rules to give effect to new subscription rates from July 2021:

  • Grade 1: £16 or €19 per month
  • Grade 2: £20 or €25 per month
  • Grade 3: £28 or €34 per month

With a minimum rate: Members earning less than £14,500 (€16,000) per annum shall pay £12 (€12.60) a month.

And a further increase in subscription rates in July 2022 to:

  • Grade 1: £17 or €20 per month
  • Grade 2: £21 or €26 per month
  • Grade 3: £29 or €35 per month

Minimum rate: Members earning less than £16,000 (€17,500) per annum shall pay £13 (€13.80) a month.

The motion instructed the union to boost awareness amongst members about the 1 per cent rule, which acts as a safety net for those on lower incomes, and also to ensure members are fully aware of how to apply for the reduced income subscription rate. The motion also instructed the union to explore ways of encouraging recruitment through a new youth rate, apprenticeship rate or a special rate for new joiners. It further instructs the NEC to explore ways to improve retention and seek to return lapsed members back into membership.

A range of amendments to motion 25 have been tabled, the first amendment discussed during the finance debate was tabled by the London magazine branch and proposed by Adam Di Chiara. He said:

"We are now in a situation where the NEC are asking for a bigger increase because they did not get a smaller increase at the last DM."

He warned of workplaces that would be derecognised, and potential problems with recruitment and retention. He said the branch's amendment includes a progressive subs structure. The NEC's Tim Dawson spoke against the London magazine branch amendment arguing that it lacked sufficient details including subs increases specified in Euros. Tim urged delegates to reject the amendment, adding that it would be "catastrophic" for the union.

Delegates voted against the London magazine branch amendment.

The Leeds and West Yorkshire branch also tabled an amendment (originally tabled by the Bradford branch) to motion 25. Bob Smith proposed the amendment which was carried. The amendment focused on apprentices working in journalism in England and highlighted they are paid just £7,500 a year during their first year at 2019-2020 rates. The amendment instructs the union to amend the rules to introduce a flat-rate subscription of £5 per month for journalist apprentices during their first year's apprenticeship and to investigate what incentives might be offered to them after this to encourage their continued membership of the NUJ.

Chris Frost made the final speech before the motion was put to the vote, and he reassured delegates that the union's attention will put on monitoring the impact on lower paid members and the importance of recruitment, especially of journalists in the early stages of their career and stressed the union needs to make sure they are recruited and retained in membership.

Motion 25 proposing an immediate subs increase was overwhelmingly carried by conference delegates.

Conference moved on to the London freelance branch addendum to motion 25. Tim Gopsill spoke in support of the addendum and said that it adds more detail to motion 25. The addendum was opposed by Richard Palmer on behalf of the NEC, saying that an increase from £25 per month to £40 per month was too high an increase and it would result in the union losing members. The addendum proposed a new grade for members earning £50,000 a year or more and required them to pay £40 a month or the euro equivalent. The addendum was rejected by conference delegates.

Motion 30 was proposed by the London magazine branch and was carried by conference. The motion proposed bringing a rule change proposal to the next delegate meeting to introduce a new graduate members' rate for student members to retain membership after qualifying, lasting two years, and introduce a new joiners' rate lasting two years, set at 50 per cent of the current grade rate.

Motion 38 was put to conference by the London freelance branch. Jenny Vaugh speaking in favour of motion 38 emphasised this is not a motion that gives an instruction to the NUJ's charity. The motion highlighted the excellent work done by the Union's charity, NUJ Extra, especially the support given to freelance NUJ members. The motion regrets the charity's decision to take part in and sign up to Amazon Smile: the charitable arm of Amazon. Under this system, NUJ Extra is included in a list of charities to which Amazon will donate 0.50 per cent of the cost of certain purchases, if requested by a customer. This means that when NUJ members make a purchase from Amazon, they may ask for a donation to be made to NUJ Extra.

Amazon is in dispute with trade unions in several countries, including the UK and the unions involved are attempting to secure recognition and improved working conditions for Amazon employees. In the UK, the main union in question is the GMB. The motion urged NUJ Extra to end its relationship with Amazon Smile. The motion was carried.

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