TUC Congress 2022

  • 19 Oct 2022

The NUJ's motions on press freedom and freelance rights were passed.

On the first day of Congress, union members from across industries heard from speakers highlighting the plight of workers struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis, many on low pay, zero-hour contracts, and poor terms and conditions.

A  motion carried from the Prison Officers’ Association and UNISON, challenged narratives that pay rises for workers were driving inflationary pressures, recognising instead that all workers deserve an increase to manage the current crisis.

Equity’s motion on AI and performers’ rights recognised the benefits of artificial intelligence if used ethically and responsibly. It flagged concerns however, when processes created reproductions of images or voices without the consent of artists. Congress backed the motion.

TUC's general council statement called for the immediate release of all those detained during protests in Iran, recognising the right of women and girls to protest.

Pierre Vicary, NUJ president, moved the union's motion seconded by Equity, denouncing global attacks on journalism. Vicary condemned the murders of journalists Dom Phillips and Shireen Abu Akleh this year while urging delegates to oppose BBC licence fee cuts and its impact on the World Service. The union sought support for campaigns seeking justice for all those killed or injured simply for carrying out their work and Congress carried the motion.

Pierre Vicary said: 

"Journalists accept the dangers inherent in working in war zones but what the NUJ won't accept is targeted dangers created by bad governments and vested interests. 

TUC delegates have pointed out recent developments in Iran and the targeting of peaceful protesters but the ability to report such developments is made much harder by the reduction in the licence fee and the subsequent closure of parts of BBC Persian Service"

Chris Frost, NUJ delegate and the union’s ethics council chair seconded Prospect’s motion on defending public service broadcasting. He said “It would be foolish to allow Public Service Broadcasting to be taken into private ownership simply to give the rich another chance to benefit at the expense of the rest of us.”

Reflecting on the impact of Channel 4, he said:

“Channel 4 with its remit to innovate was even more daring and many of our favourite comedies and dramas as well as superb news programmes and documentaries started on Channel 4, and its back catalogue of programmes is now freely available online - still a go to for many for an evening of entertainment.”

Natasha Hirst, NUJ vice president moved composite 8 including the NUJ’s motion “Plight of freelance workers”.

Highlighting the realities for many freelances, she said:

“Being my own boss means that in many situations I have less power and fewer rights than if I’d stayed in employment. I have no holiday pay, I have no sick pay, I can’t rely on a steady monthly income. I pay for my own equipment, software, insurance before I can even start working – those costs really add up.”

“Before the pandemic, and before the cost of living crisis, the situation with freelance rates was already a race to the bottom. It was compounded by huge job cuts across the industry, forcing journalists into freelancing or out of journalism altogether.

“Freelances who just about kept up with their living costs before, now can’t and we are losing them from the industry.”

Natasha explained there are many reasons why freelances need trade unions and spoke of the NUJ’s Freelance Charter and Fair Deal 4 Freelances campaign aims to highlight and collectively tackle these issues.

The NUJ’s motion was seconded by Lorraine Monk from the Artists’ Union England who highlighted that in 2021, figures showed there were 4.1 million self-employed workers in the UK. Monk reminded delegates that many of her union’s members were forced to take on second jobs to survive and called for a change to employment law to reflect changes in the economy.

Watch Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary's speech.

The NUJ’s vice-president Natasha Hirst took part in a fringe meeting held by the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group and explained how journalists at Reach, publishers of the national newspapers Daily Mail and Express and regionals including the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, Bristol Post, Birmingham Mail, The Journal, South Wales Evening Post and the Live websites, by having the courage to reject the derisory offer of 3 per cent from the company and take strike action won a significant boost to their pay.

She said the NUJ members had been inspired by the action taken by colleagues in the trade union movement, including the railway workers. The fringe also heard from Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil servants’ union PCS, who is balloting members to take industrial action over pay, pensions, jobs and redundancy terms. He said: “Not for a generation has there been such a belief that workers can win and fight back - and never had it been so necessary.”

John McDonnell MP said the budget on 31 October will likely mean austerity cuts on a massive scale. Steve Gillan of prison offers’ union POA said some prisons were already setting up food banks for their own staff.

The trade union movement would also have to do all it could to resist anti-union laws proposed by the government. Liz Truss has published controversial plans to make sure transport workers provide a minimum service level when they strike.

Natasha also spoke to a motion which called for a radical revision of the government’s disability strategy, and the use of the Disability Employment Charter to inform a new strategy. The charter, supported by a wide range of charities and unions, proposes a set of measures to substantially shift the dial on disability employment. Conference heard that the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people remains at approaching 30 per cent, and there is no evidence that change is in sight.

She said:

“I have been a disability activist for 25 years and quite frankly Congress I'm tired! I'm tired of having the same conversations, year after year, and seeing only superficial progress. Plenty of words but never enough action. Disabled people should have the same fundamental human rights as everybody else – the same right to an education, access employment, and the same right to life. Yet disabled people disproportionately died during the pandemic and now are disproportionately affected by poverty. This is the result of political choices; it is not inevitable!”

The motion was passed.

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