DM 2021: Late notice motions

  • 22 May 2021

A significant proportion of time on Saturday was dedicated to tackling late notice motions covering various themes.

Late notice motion (LNM) 5 was tabled by the national executive and highlighted the concern and anger in response to the escalating level of incidents of attacks, harassment and abuse against journalists – simply for doing their job – and condemned the perpetrators who seek to intimidate, close down scrutiny and silence reporting.

The motion was proposed by Anton McCabe. He said: "This union will not accept attacks on or abuse of our members, we have shown that by our response to the murder of Lyra McKee and the union’s reaction to threats to our members in Northern Ireland."

The motion condemned the spike in attacks during the coronavirus lockdowns, and threats against journalists in Northern Ireland by so-called paramilitary forces. It congratulated the union’s coordination of a strong collective statement last May from newspaper groups, industry figures, trade union leaders and politicians standing with the NUJ to publicly denounce threats and attempts to silence the press.

Anton drew attention to the violent online threats directed at women journalists in particular and he condemned the abhorrent and vicious threats directed at NUJ members including Patricia Devlin, Allison Morris and Amy Fenton.

Anton added: "Last month Kevin Scott, a photographer, was seriously assaulted when covering a riot. A message has to go from this conference to all our members, if you are threatened, trolled or attacked then immediately contact the union. We are proud of our record of mobilising members to protest and engage with and put pressure on the authorities to act."

Conference acknowledged the challenges faced by newsgatherers during the pandemic, particularly those working in public order situations which have resulted in increased incidents of abuse from protestors, the public and on occasion interference from the police. The motion recognised the efforts of the union in putting in place good and responsive communication with the UK National Police Chiefs Council to resolve difficulties swiftly and ensure all officers have been regularly and routinely briefed on the vital role of journalists and their position as keyworkers.

Conference welcomed the successful campaign that led to the NUJ being represented on the UK government’s National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, which launched last summer, and on which the NUJ’s general secretary sits. It further welcomed the launch in March of the first National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists, the content of which has been shaped and informed by the NUJ’s union-wide safety survey published in January, and the personal experiences of NUJ members who have been attacked, abused and threatened, on and offline, in the course of carrying out their duties.

The union has made strong statements to condemn those politicians and public officials who serve to further pollute public discourse and undermine journalism through their attacks on the media, describing the stories they disagree with as fake news, or impugning the integrity or indulging in personal smears of reporters.

Conference instructed the NUJ to prioritise campaigning to improve the working lives of journalists and to stamp out harassment and abuse with a programme of work that includes encouraging members to participate in the forthcoming UK government’s call for evidence, building engagement with police forces and prosecutorial services to better support journalists lodging complaints and to ensure offenders are brought to justice,  developing a tool-kit for journalists, leading an industry-wide annual safety survey, ensuring that employers do more to support and protect their staff and freelances and pushing tech platforms to take sufficient action against the perpetrators of abuse.

Mike Jempson, from the Bristol branch seconded the motion and said: "In Bristol we have had attacks on journalists, including assaults by police when journalists have been covering demonstrations. We have set up a local dialogue with the local police force and we want to make sure the police support and protect journalists from assault and online abuse".

Pierre Tran, a representative of the Paris branch, also contributed to the debate and said: "One of our branch members who is a photographer was covering public demonstrations and was shot with a rubber bullet by French riot police, these are the sort of physical attacks that our members have experienced, and the union has been supporting the members affected." Motion LNM 5 was agreed.

LNM 6 was agreed by conference and proposed by Niall Mullholland from the London magazine branch and he said: "In Northern Ireland the situation has become more volatile and there has been a rise in sectarian tensions which is likely to get worse". Journalists face a "serious ongoing situation" and "solidarity action is very important, and the motion draws attention to the action that has happened".

The motion condemned the physical attacks and threats against journalists and acknowledged that in recent months, police have warned several journalists they were under threat.

Felicity McCall from the Derry branch seconded the motion and said that she had been attacked on various occasions in the course of her work and that journalists were more at risk as a result of lone working and people can be easily traced using social media.

Kathryn Johnston from the Belfast branch also supported the motion and talked about the killings of Lyra McKee and Martin O’Hagan. She said: "Both NUJ members who have been murdered were members of my branch".

Conference asserted that all journalists should be able to carry out their work free from all threats and violence. In December last year in Northern Ireland, NUJ members held socially distanced protests in Belfast and Derry against the threats issued to journalists. This action showed those under threat that they were not alone.

Conference also expressed solidarity with bus workers in Belfast who have also been attacked during the recent riots and took industrial action in response.

Conference instructed the NUJ to continue to support to journalists facing difficult and dangerous working conditions in Northern Ireland and to widely publicise this support. The union should also support efforts and initiatives organised by other trade unionists. Conference also agreed to support trade union initiatives that campaign for a society based upon equality, justice, a living wage, decent housing, and real hope for all communities.

LNM 10 focused on the continued relevance of the Reporting Poverty campaign started by Manchester and Salford branch in 2017. Conference offered support for the recent Reporting Poverty Guide for Media Professionals, published in October in collaboration with people with lived experience of poverty, media workers, the NUJ, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Church Action on Poverty, and On the Road Media. The guide seeks to help media professionals, under increasing pressure from heavy workloads and demands on their time, to navigate this complicated subject.

Conference instructed the NUJ to continue to support the campaign by further promoting the guide, highlighting the importance of the campaign and working with parliamentarians.

When speaking in support of the motion, Rachel Broady from the Manchester and Salford branch outlined all the previous work that has been carried out by the union on reporting poverty and she said: "we need to take the campaign to parliament". Julia Armstrong from the South Yorkshire branch seconded the motion and acknowledged the "brilliant work by the Manchester branch, it is so inspiring and we should do what we can to support it". The motion was carried.

LNM 13 raised the alarm about the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill because it attempts to limit the right to protest. The bill proposes new powers for the police to stop protests that cause “serious disruption” to an organisation or have a “relevant impact” on people nearby. An additional clause in the bill criminalises protests causing “serious annoyance” – and the motion warned that every employer could use this claim to curb trade union activity.

Conference agreed to oppose any attempt by government to use the COVID-19 crisis to limit the right to protest, it instructed the NUJ to campaign against the whole of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and to work with other campaigners and the TUC.

The motion was moved by Phil Turner from South Yorkshire branch, he said this was "one of the most important motions we will be debating and strikes at the heart of what a trade union is about”, adding: "our branch is involved in the TUC and there is fantastic unity on this issue locally and trade unions like ours need to take part, protesting does work".

Ann Galpin on behalf of the disabled members council seconded the motion and said: "disabled people have been one of the groups most disadvantages under the government’s austerity regime and if we had not protested we would not have even been seen … we need to kill the bill". The motion was carried.

LNM 16 was passed by conference and focused on the Online Safety Bill published in May 2021. The bill contains provisions that restrict lawful speech and threatens the right to have a private conversation online. Conference instructed the union to work with the NUJ parliamentary group and other allies to ensure the bill does not damage media freedoms. The motion was carried.

LNM 17 expressed concern about the government’s plans announced in May 2021 for legislation to require photographic Identification documents in order to qualify to vote in elections. The motion also condemned government plans to abolish the supplementary vote systems for mayoral and police commissioner elections. The motion was agreed and instructed the union to campaign with NUJ MPs to resist these proposals. Moving the motion Mike Jempson from the Bristol branch said: "this move is an attack on democracy and does nothing to enhance it". The motion was carried.

LNM 31 was tabled by the Irish executive council, was proposed by Siobhan Holliman and seconded by Stephen Corrigan. Conference welcomed the establishment by the Irish government in March 2021 of the High-Level Working Group to review collective bargaining and the industrial relations landscape in Ireland.

The absence of a legal right to collective representation, the impediments to workers seeking to vindicate their rights through the industrial relations system and the adverse impact of the current limitations on collective bargaining have long been highlighted by the NUJ and ICTU.

Many Irish journalists, especially those employed in the regional newspaper and commercial broadcasting sector, have been denied the right to trade union representation. The attitude and actions of Iconic Newspapers is an egregious example of the consequences of the absence of a legal right to collective bargaining.

DM condemns the refusal of Iconic Newspapers to meet with the NUJ or to respond to representations on behalf of members arising from the Covid 19 pandemic.

Conference passed the motion and instructed the union to make the issue of trade union recognition and the right to collective bargaining a campaigning priority. The campaign should include supporting the ETUC campaign for a minimum wage directive that guarantees the right to collective bargaining throughout Europe, seeking to ensure that the proposed cooperation agreement between the UK and the EU in the field of competition law properly respects the right to collectively bargain, including for self-employed freelances, and working with the IFJ to highlight the need for collective bargaining rights for all workers on 7 October which is the next World Day for Decent Work.

LNM 32 was agreed by DM and condemned Newsquest for using fire and rehire to force through changes to contracts at the Oxford Mail. Conference expressed astonishment that the company opted to use such aggressive tactics without going through the dispute procedure laid down in the recognition agreement with the NUJ.

The motion was moved by the Oxford and district branch, and Gill Oliver said: "as a former Oxford Mail reporter I know how hard our colleagues in local and regional newspapers work", adding: "tomorrow it could be another employer trying to do it, let’s send a clear message". Joyce McMillan from the Edinbrugh freelance branch seconded the motion by saying: "The record of Newsquest in Scotland is atrocious". Bob Smith from the Leeds and West Yorkshire branch said he was a "former Newsquest wage slave and FoC, Newsquest has a long history of using all the tactics it can to get the upper hand against its long suffering journalists". 

Conference instructed the union to work with sister unions and with MPs to campaign for the practice of fire and rehire to be outlawed in the UK, and to name and shame Newsquest alongside British Gas and others as examples of abusive management.

Conference offered full support to the Oxford Mail NUJ chapel in their efforts to protect their members interests and stand up for their pay and conditions in the face of such despotic behaviour.

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