DM 2021: Wages, payments and conditions

  • 22 May 2021

The union's conference pledges to fight for various improvements for NUJ members.

Motion 48 was tabled by the Birmingham and Coventry branch, the motion applauded the efforts of individual chapels and group chapels in fighting for better pay for members and noted that an NUJ-wide pay campaign was agreed at the last DM in 2018. Motion 48 was agreed by conference and said that the pay campaign must intensify in 2020-21 because all media workers still need a pay rise. The motion instructed the union to reinvigorate the pay campaign which should also incorporate the gender pay gap.

The freelance industrial council amendment the motion to highlight that the union’s many freelance members have also battled to persuade media organisations to pay them more. Conference resolved that the campaign should also include calls for increased pay for freelance workers.

Motion 49 also focused on pay, the motion was proposed by the Newquest group chapel and was agreed by DM, it instructed the union to create a campaign to improve all media workers’ pay and was proposed by the union's Derby and Burton branch.

Motion 50 highlighted the continuing failure of Newsquest to pay across-the-board annual cost of living pay rises – despite the best efforts of local chapels. A union survey of members in Newsquest showed that the majority of members exist on less than £22,000 as senior journalists and that the company is willing to have its reporting capability propped up by excellent but exploited apprentices paid as little as £7,500 as year. The survey also revealed that a fifth of NUJ members also had second jobs on top of their exacting day jobs.

Conference agreed to applaud the Newsquest group chapel for shining a spotlight on the iniquity of the pay within the company by gate-crashing the annual shareholders’ meeting of US parent company Gannett in April with the help of colleagues in the American News Guild. Conference agreed that the union should coordinate a strong and effective pay campaign throughout the media industry that is able to bring about a focus on the desperate need for all members to get a substantial pay rise by the end of 2021 and sustained increases thereafter.

Motion 52 was proposed by Newsquest group chapel and condemned Newsquest’s continuing and aggressive cost-cutting, in which more experienced journalists often appear to be targeted to lose their jobs. Job cuts appear predicated on a strategy of relying ever more on free user-generated ‘content’ at the expense of work by professionals.  

Newsquest is an American-owned media giant that has repeatedly vowed publicly to invest in “front line” journalism. Yet its strategy to generate profit appears to be based on cutting costs by replacing higher-paid and more senior journalists with cheaper jobs.

Newsquest has benefitted from the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme, Facebook Community reporters and apprenticeships with salary costs as low as £7,500 a year.

Low pay damages workers ability to produce quality journalism for the communities they serve and it also makes newsrooms unattractive places to work. The motion paid tribute to the work of Newsquest chapels and their reps in resisting continuing morale-sapping cut-backs. The motion instructed the union to support the work of the group chapel in campaigning to force Newsquest maintain quality journalism at the newspaper titles it owns.  

Motion 51 was proposed by the Irish South West branch and agreed, it instructed the union to conduct a pay survey among its national and regional print members in Ireland and the UK. The survey must gather information on hours worked as well as pay. The results of the survey must be published and the union must organise a seminar focused on journalism and conditions.

Motion 53 was proposed by the JPIMedia group chapel and agreed by conference. The motion noted the increasing use of individual page view targets and other such metrics to assess the online performance of journalists by their employers. Conference believes that the setting of such targets at an individual level poses a risk to the mental health and wellbeing of NUJ members, promotes a quantity over quality and threatens investment in public interest journalism.

Conference expressed concern that such targets could be abused by local managers, result in the bullying of individual journalists, and be used punitively in redundancy situations. DM agreed to urge all members to bring such activities to the attention of their local reps and officials, so that any existing schemes or proposals are properly scrutinised. The motion also instructed the union to publish a report by June 2021 focused on the way that individual targets are being used by media companies in the UK to measure the performance of their journalists and to run a campaign highlighting why the union is opposed to the use of individual targets for journalists. The union's work must include detailed guidance for chapels and branches about how to resist the imposition of associated, punitive sanctions on members working Reach plc’s.

Motion 56 was agreed and proposed by the Dublin freelance branch. It recognised that action is needed to recover the ground lost in the Irish financial collapse of 2007-08. The motion also noted that some progress has been made on restoring pay cuts and instructs the union to prioritise the completion of this process. The motion agreed that the union should launch a vigorous and public campaign for the restoration of pension cuts, including restoring cost of living increases, naming and shaming those employers, particularly those who entered into a formal process of restoring cuts with the Pensions Authority and then failed to honour their obligations, and conference calls on members not to support such shoddy dealing.

Motion 57 was proposed by the Dublin freelance branch and instructed the NUJ to support the principle that the national minimum wage should, at least, be paid to interns, and the union should campaign for all journalists, freelance, interns and employees to be paid no less.

Motion 58 was tabled by the new media industrial council and was agreed by DM. It noted the work being done by various organisations to develop policies relating to online harassment and instructed the NUJ to draw up practical guidance for NUJ members to help assess whether or not instances of online harassment are criminal and should be reported to police, and if so, what steps NUJ members to take.

The NEC amended the motion to take account of the range of work the NUJ has already carried out including providing evidence and submissions to external organisations and responses to the ULK's draft online harms legislation, lobbying for an ILO convention to establish a global right to work free from violence and harassment, promoting the IFJ and NUJ guidelines relating to online abuse and working with the FEU and employers in the creative industries to tackle harassment.

The motion also specified that the NUJ information should provide clear guidance on the distinction between criminal harassment, legitimate criticism and mere nuisance, and should also provide information about how to engage with the police and provide information about where to seek practical help, support and further information.

DM also instructed the union to remind NUJ members that the health and safety committee has already produced guidance notes for members and reps, and highlight that equality and other legislation can be used as a route to recourse and is an issue covered NUJ trade union training.

Motion 59 was tabled by the BBC World Service branch and passed by conference. The motion brought attention to the growing medical evidence confirming the adverse effects of night working, especially for women and older workers. The motion highlighted that in one part of the BBC, the union was able five decades ago to negotiate a progressive local agreement that gave night workers, on reaching their 55th birthday, the right to opt out of night working.

Sadly, the BBC used a recent review of corporate terms and conditions to end that historic agreement, claiming without any legal evidence, that it was discriminatory.

Conference agreed to instruct the NUJ to seek to re-establish a corporate mechanism at the BBC that would allow older workers to stop doing night shifts at a time of their choosing without having to justify that wish via the BBC’s Occupational Health Unit – a unit that seems to have as one of its main justifications to force night workers to continue doing them, no matter their age or the adverse medical effects of doing so.

Motion 60 from the NUJ's book branch highlighted that media companies’ social media policies can often leave employees open to being very heavily penalized for minor indiscretions. Employees are often strongly encouraged to maintain a presence on social media and to express their own personal, ‘authentic’ opinions but media workers can be heavily sanctioned if these opinions are considered by managers or employers to be inappropriate or detrimental to company interests. Conference agreed that the union should investigate how much this issue is a problem for other unions, with a view to submitting an NUJ motion on the subject at the next TUC conference and similar event in the Republic of Ireland.

The last motion in this debate was late notice motion 7 tabled by London central branch and amended by the London independent broadcasting and new media branch. Sohair Soliman proposed the motion saying that “London has a new wave of media workers and outlets from the Middle East” adding that: "we would like a campaign so we can help our unemployed colleagues.". Tooba Zakipour also spoke in favour of the motion and said that “to be subjected to discrimination and oppression from our own countries is just not acceptable, please support this motion”.

The motion welcomed the recent successes in achieving recognition at Alaraby and Iran International and congratulated members at both companies whose long fights to achieve recognition in the face of numerous obstacles are an inspiration to us all.

The motion noted that the UK in general and London in particular has become a world centre for foreign news media production. In particular, the Arab market has recently seen the arrival of a number of new journals, papers and media outlets, which in some cases rely heavily on the financial backing of certain wealthy states and individuals, often therefore operating as vehicles for the aims and objectives of their backers.

The motion went further to say that in some instances, employment practices have fallen significantly short of those championed by the NUJ and reasonably expected by workers in the UK.

DM recognised that there have been instances of bullying, sexual harassment, racial and sexual discrimination and the arbitrary termination of contracts – often with visa implications.

With union representation secured at Al Jazeera and now Alaraby, the union is in a strong position to recruit and organise in the rest of the Arab-owned media in the UK.

The motion instructed the union to develop links with journalists and media workers (both employed and unemployed) working in this sector and build on the work that has already been done.

The motion also committed the union to work to defend all employees’ rights to freedom of expression and for the respect of differences. The motion also highlighted the importance of placing ethical journalism at the heart of the NUJ's work with all media and working collaboratively with TUC sister unions in order to build the NUJ’s presence in this sector and to take action to organise a one day event to bring this work to broader attention.

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