Conference heard and discussed a range of motions relating to the effect of Covid-19 on members, the way they work and how the NUJ should respond.
The problems of home working, the blurring of work time and home time and people being forced to continue to work from home were all concerns. A motion from BBC London highlighted an Office for National Statistics (ONS) study which found that people who worked from home were less likely to be promoted, 38 per cent less likely to be given a bonus and did almost twice as much unpaid work than colleagues who worked in the office.
David Gallagher, BBC London branch, said the pandemic had sharply increased the amount of home working among members. What was needed, he said, was the right to disconnect. The notion has already been adopted in a code of practice in the Republic of Ireland and passed in law in Slovenia.
His BBC colleague Shayan Sardarizadeh said the distinction between work time and home time was being eroded and he had heard from a number of journalists from different news organisations who said they had been asked to work outside their working times. "It’s time for the union to get on to this, early and quick," he said.
Their motion for the union to support efforts to enshrine in law a right to disconnect, to support reps to secure this right in their workplaces and to prevent those working from home being denied support, training and promotion, was carried by conference.
Oxford and District branch has been involved in a survey of the publishing industry with Oxford’s Society of Young Publishers and the Oxford Publishing Society on the effects of Covid-19. It found while working from home has worked well for some, for many the experience has been highly unsatisfactory and stressful. Those affected negatively were women, young people and the poor.
Eleanor Connor, Oxford & District branch, said employers were now starting to impose home working on people who preferred to go back to the office because of their personal circumstances. She said:
“We must ensure the NUJ uses all its tools, including health and safety law and on equality grounds to ensure that employers do meaningful impact assessments and consult with the union before imposing working conditions on members.”
Catherine Brereton, Book branch, said the union must take the lead in monitoring to what extent employers are imposing home working and conference agreed that the Magazine and Book Industrial Council, Newspapers and Agencies Industrial Council, the Health and Safety committee and chapels should get the materials, information and support they need to carry out this work.
A motion from the Disabled Members’ Council (DMC) raised the issue of Long Covid, with its symptoms ranging from fatigue, depression, lack of energy, joint pain and diabetes type two. Ann Galpin, DMC member, said employers were notorious for not supporting workers with chronic conditions. She said early results from a TUC survey on Long Covid told a stark story and she asked conference to ensure that chapels and reps have the resources to support staff and freelances with this condition.
According to the ONS, 674,000 people were so ill that their daily lives were affected, and for another 196,000 it limited their ability to carry out everyday tasks. Ann said members would have heard Michael Rosen’s moving account of his experience with Long Covid.
Marc Wadsworth, chair of the Black Members’ Council, said he almost died from Covid and now suffers from fatigue most of the time. He thanked the NUJ Extra charity for the help it had given him. He said: “I hope my union will take the lead on this.” Conference agreed:
- The Disabled Members' Council and the Health and Safety Committee will raise awareness of Long Covid and produce guidance for reps on how to support freelances and employees with Long Covid.
- The union will support proposals to recognise Long Covid as an occupational disease, so employers will have a duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for workers who develop the condition.
Conference voted for a Manchester and Salford motion instructing the NEC to support any NUJ member placed at risk by an employer’s “no jab, no job” policy and join the TUC and other unions in campaigning against employers who make having a vaccination mandatory.
A London Independent Broadcasting and New Media motion was also passed which noted the high level of redundancies as a consequence of coronavirus in journalism. The union is now tasked with creating a network of members who have been made redundant and providing training courses on developing co-ops or alternative models for media for members made redundant who do not want to go freelance.
Delegates were told that a government White Paper, Integration and Innovation: working together improve health and social care for all, was a real threat to the NHS. Paul Felton, Birmingham and Coventry, said: “This will be complex and difficult to follow. It will create 42 Integrated Care Systems, but it seems these will be unaccountable bodies. Will they respond to FOI requests? We don’t know. But we do know the White Paper will herald further privatisation in the health service.”
Anna Wagstaff, Oxford & District branch, said journalists had a responsibility to pick up the issue of the proposed changes:
“The NHS is our most important institution. It’s with us from cradle to grave. We think it is ours and will always be there. But that’s not true. That’s why we should be out explaining and campaigning.”
Delegates voted to support and publicise the work of Health Campaigns Together and Keep Our NHS Public and its unofficial online People’s Covid Inquiry chaired by Michael Mansfield QC which has started to take evidence from academics, health professionals and organisations representing bereaved relatives. The NEC was instructed to circulate information to branches on the campaign and encourage them to make donations and publicise the report when it is published.