DM 2021: Government policies

  • 21 May 2021

Conference discussed and agreed policy on a range of governmental issues including sexual harassment, FOI legislation and Julian Assange.

The government policy section of today's conference started with a motion about Brexit.

Motion 77 proposed by the book branch was agreed by DM. The motion argued that Brexit constitutes a significant threat to the health of the publishing industry and is likely to have an effect on NUJ members including their pay and conditions, employment rights, social protection, copyright protection and freedom of movement. Conference also acknowledge the threat to of employment rights for all workers, including journalists.

The Publishers Association in April 2018 produced a Blueprint for UK publishing setting out a list of demands for the UK government to ensure publishers have the support they need to export, grow and thrive.

The motion instructed the union to work with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the NUJ parliamentary group to draw up and present demands to the UK government that cover workers in the UK and Ireland.

Motion 78 was also agreed by conference and was proposed by the Dublin broadcasting branch. It compels the union to investigate the potential impact of Brexit on members in Ireland, and calls on the union to issue a report on this issue within a year. The NEC added an amended to the motion to recognise that the union has members working within and outside the European Union. The NEC amendment recognised that the rights of journalists working across jurisdictions should be specifically recognised.

Motion 79 was agreed by conference and again focused on Brexit. The motion was proposed by the equality council and condemned statements by the current UK government that after Brexit it will only guarantee the right to index link pensions for British nationals living in EU countries for three years.

The NUJ has over 400 members living in Europe, most of whom are British, as well as British nationals resident in Ireland. Some members are already retired, and others are coming up to retirement in the next few years and want to remain in countries that have become their homes, without having to live in poverty. The motion instructs the NUJ to monitor developments on pensions for British nationals based in EU countries, join the TUC in fighting against such a move and to challenge the end to index-linking.

The freelance industrial council tabled motion 80, it was agreed by DM and asserted that the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market offers significant advances toward levelling the playing field in favour of journalists and other authors and performers. The new rules mandate transparency of reporting of uses made of NUJ member's work and there will be provision to “adjust” contracts in the case of windfall income to the exploiter of the work – and perhaps more generally. The conference motion stated that NUJ members will have a right to be represented by unions in such challenges and journalists – in particular photographers – may gain significant new income from internet corporations, through collecting societies.

The motion instructed the NUJ to do everything in its power, in collaboration with the Federation of Entertainment Unions and the Creators’ Rights Alliance, to implement the policy proposed by Equity to TUC Congress in 2019 that agreed the provisions of the Directive should be implemented in UK law.

Motion 81 was tabled by the freelance industrial council and was agreed by DM. The motion focused on freedom of information and conference welcomed the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by journalists – particularly on fire safety post-Grenfell. The motion also highlighted that in 2010 the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published the results of a nine-month investigation into FOI requests and concluded that local councils were giving inaccurate responses. In March 2019 the Campaign for Freedom of Information produced a report outlining the unwillingness of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to take enforcement action against London councils where breaches had occurred.

Conference instructed the NUJ to work in parliament and campaign with the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to make changes to the FOI legislation that extend the powers of the ICO to include fines given to persistent non-compliant public bodies. The motion also called on the union to press for new provisions so that public bodies should be made to apply a public interest test when deciding on disclosure, and the ICO should no longer close cases that are still ‘live’. In addition, public bodies should be compelled to respond within 20 working days as was intended in the legislation.

The Leeds and Wakefield branch and the NEC both amended motion 81 and conference agreed the union should promote the recommendations in the Information Commissioner's 2019 report: “Outsourcing Oversight? The case for reforming access to information law”, which makes the case for extending existing FOI and EIR legislation, and supports calls for freedom of information legislation to be extended to those providing services under contract to public authorities.

Motion 82 was submitted by the Newcastle branch and was agreed by DM. It instructed the union to campaign for an amendment to the UK's Freedom of Information Act 2000. Conference instructed the union to promote a union-wide campaign based on the principle that organisations in receipt of public funds should be subject to the disclosure provisions set out in the existing FOI legislation.

Motion 83 was tabled by the Edinburgh freelance branch and was agreed by conference. The motion highlighted the union's concerns about the response of the Scottish Government to Freedom of Information requests, particularly those made by journalists. The motion noted the open letter from a group of senior Scottish journalists sent to the Scottish government in May 2017, pointing to evidence of unequal treatment of FoI requests from journalists, and the letter demanded action to improve the handling of such requests. Motion 83 also noted the subsequent inquiry by Scottish Information Commissioner, Daren Fitzhenry, and his damning 2018 report describing the Scottish government’s handling of requests, particularly from journalists, as “inherently wrong”. The second open letter from senior journalists sent in June 2019 welcomed some improvements since the report’s publication, but pointed out a range of continuing problems.

The motion instructed the union to do everything in its power to support the journalists’ call for an urgent review of Scotland’s Freedom of Information legislation, with a view to improving procedures, and ensuring that proper journalistic requests are not subjected to obstruction and delay, but are dealt with promptly and fairly, in the interests of full democratic debate and accountability.

Motion 84 condemned previous governments for introducing the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 and 2017 and was agreed by DM. The motion highlights the introduction of a number of changes to the ways in which people are charged for NHS care in England, and congratulated the NHS professional and trade union bodies, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the BMA, that have almost universally opposed these changes. The 2015 regulations, part of Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, place a statutory requirement on NHS Trusts to identify and charge people not eligible for free NHS care, increase the amount people can be charged to 150 per cent of the national tariff, and introduce the Immigration Health Surcharge.

The 2017 regulations also place a statutory duty on NHS Trusts to charge people upfront for treatment if they are found to be ineligible for free NHS care, increased the range of services that are chargeable to include some community and mental health services, and mandate that NHS Trusts record people’s chargeable status on their patient record.

As a result of the changes, tens of thousands of patients are being arbitrarily forced to prove their eligibility for NHS care, a small minority of whom are then required to pay large sums to access the treatment they need. Unknown numbers of people are deterred from accessing treatment, even for services that are exempt from charges. DM supported motion 84, proposed by the Birmingham and Coventry branch, and agreed that charging for healthcare represents a significant step backwards.

Conference reasserted the NUJ’s commitment to an NHS free for all and pledged support for the campaign to scrap NHS charges. DM instructed the union to call on the Department of Health to commission a full independent inquiry into the impact of the regulations on individuals' and public health, publish their own internal review of the 2017 charging regulations and for the union to lend practical and political support to the Patients Not Passports campaign. The motion further agreed to encourage NUJ branches in England to make donations to the campaign and to publicise Medact and Docs Not Cops.

The motion urged NUJ branches to join in solidarity with health and other TUC unions in calling on NHS Trusts to stop sharing patient data with the Home Office and to separate the roles of the health care sector and migration authorities.

Motion 85 was tabled by the disabled members' council and highlighted the Department for Work and Pensions commitment to pursue ‘small scale testing’ of a single assessment process for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

PIP is a non-means tested disability benefit that is wholly unrelated to an individual’s work status or ability to work whereas PIP determines what support is needed for day-to-day living and extra costs related to disability. ESA is a benefit which utilises an assessment to determine an individual’s capacity to undertake work and provides an income for people who are currently unable to work or are seeking to return to work after illness. Any NUJ member of working age who is disabled or becomes ill may potentially seek support from PIP and/or ESA.

NUJ conference agreed that it is inappropriate for joint assessments of PIP and ESA to take place and the motion instructed the union to oppose any plans to introduce a joint assessment.

Motion 86 proposed by the Birmingham and Coventry branch shines a light on existing UK employment law that relates to redundancy payments, which are being allowed to discriminate against part-time workers and has a disproportionate impact on women.

By failing to allow for consideration of any previous completed years of full-time working in the calculation of statutory (and many enhanced) redundancy payments, workers who go part-time are subsequently dismissed as redundant and suffer a significant detriment in their financial outcome. This motion was agreed by conference and it instructed the union to work with the TUC and the NUJ parliamentary group to seek a change to the existing statutory rules.

Motion 87 focused on Julian Assange and was agreed by conference. The motion was proposed by the Wiltshire branch and amended by the NEC and the Manchester and Salford branch. The motion condemned the detention of Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison and instructed the union to campaign for his release. The motion further condemned the attempted use of the US Espionage Act to prosecute Julian Assange for his work exposing war crimes committed by US service personnel in the Iraq and Afghan war logs.

Conference agreed that the Assange case constitutes a grave threat to free speech and a free press, and is without precedent in US law. The motion highlighted the union's work on the case including writing to the Home Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary, briefings of the NUJ’s parliamentary group, briefings the Irish government, speaking at meetings and rallies, working with the IFJ to raise the issue internationally including at the United Nations, and the NUJ's support and attendance at protests outside Belmarsh prison. Conference agreed to continue to campaign about the case of Julian Assange and to find ways to involve members, chapels, and branches in this work.

Motion 88 was moved by the Bristol branch and Mike Jempson proposed the motion. The motion focused on considering the possibility of a new voting system of proportional representation for Westminster and encouraged members of the NUJ parliamentary group to lobby for reform. Gerry Curran opposed the motion on behalf of the NEC. He said that the NUJ rules say "we do not take sides" and this is so that our members can operate as "objective reporters”. The motion was rejected by the conference.

The last motion in this section of conference was late notice motion 2 that focused on sexual harassment at work. The motion highlighted a 2019 TUC survey on sexual harassment of LGBT+ workers which found a majority had been subject to some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Recent union work with women photographers in the NUJ also demonstrated that many had experienced sexual harassment, both as staffers and whilst doing freelance work. 

The motion acknowledged that after many years of campaigning, including by the NUJ, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2019 adopted the Violence and Harassment Convention and Recommendation, which covers harassment by clients or other people that a worker is in contact with for work, such as interviewees. However, the recommendation is not a binding international rule. Therefore, the British and Irish governments as well as the EU can decide whether to apply it or not.

Conference therefore agreed to instruct the union to campaign alongside the TUC and other organisations for the British, Irish and EU governments to adopt binding legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace that covers harassment by clients or other people with which a worker is in contact with as part their work.

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