European Federation of Journalists

What journalists unions, governments and employers must do to defend freedom of association ?

Journalists from across the Balkans and Eastern Europe met in Belgrade (Serbia) on 10-11 October 2015 to discuss the status of journalism in the region and the campaign for freedom of association to enable journalists to freely organise in unions. They discussed the struggles facing journalists, the precariousness of their employment, the low salaries and poor contracts the hostility of employers to journalists unions and the pervading climate of insecurity and fear.

This is a struggle not just for improved conditions for journalists, but for a healthy and vibrant journalists sector that can play its democratic role in serving the public with independent, ethical and timely information.

Participants congratulated
– The journalists unions Ukraine (IMTUU & NUJU) and Russia (RUJ) for their leadership in co-ordinating their support for journalists in conflict:
– The Montenegrin journalists union (SMCG) in their successful labour case against the daily Vijesti (Ringier)
– The Macedonian journalists (SSNM and ZNM) in their victory for the freeing of Tomislav Kezarovski
– The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) for their struggle for journalists’ rights and sent solidarity to journalists in Turkey in the current turbulent period.

In particular Participants
– Emphasised that it is impossible to have quality, independent journalism without decent working conditions. Professional and labour rights are indivisible.
– Condemned the arrogant behaviour of Ringier Axel Springer and the issuing of mass redundancies and downgrading of staff in 2015 in its Serbian companies.
– Welcomed the study on precarious workers in media developed by the ITUC in Serbia that highlights the crushing economic conditions in which today’s journalists are expected to work.

The participants agreed the following conclusions to their Freedom of Association campaign

Journalists unions must
Counter the culture of fear and insecurity in the media
Prioritise recruitment and services to members
Develop effective legal assistance with a strong education programme for journalists on their labour rights in employment disputes
Unite – union and associations together – in the joint struggle for professional and labour rights.
Build coalitions with the broader trade union movement both in the media sector and beyond
Generate international solidarity and exploit networks in multinationals for joint campaigning
Use the crises of mass redundancies to raise the profile of the unions and their importance in addressing the unscrupulous conditions of employment.
Win small victories – whether in the law courts or in organising in the work places with favourable employers – to build the national movement.

Participants called on Governments to
Reform labour legislation to ensure they respect international standards and are favourable to the decent work agenda. These laws must backed up by effective implementation through well-resourced labour inspectorates and independent judiciaries.
– Take strong action against employers who violate labour laws through illegal contracts and who act against the free organising of trade unions
– Create conditions for national social dialogue
Reform the legal system so that labour cases can be treated quickly and effectively and at minimum cost.

Participants called on Employers to
– Allow unions to organise freely
– Respect labour laws and ensure all staff are fully and legally contracted
Recognise union representatives in negotiations over collective agreements

Participants further called on Intergovernmental organisations
– the European Union, Council of Europe and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to ensure that freedom of association and decent labour conditions are a central criteria in their assessment of the state of press freedom and their media development strategies.

Participants asked the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to continue to :
Lobby for freedom of association and strong labour rights
– Develop programmes to support journalists unions
– Develop programmes to strengthen international solidarity and support in multinational media between journalists unions
– Recommend that the continuation of the freedom of association campaign and organising events on the extent of the problem in further countries of the region.

The meeting further supported the debate on Serbia conducted by SINOS (Journalists Union of Serbia), UNS (Journalists Association of Serbia), NUNS (Independent Journalists Association of Serbia) and the OSCE from which the following recommendations were agreed :

– Serbian journalists work in appalling conditions without decent contracts, rights at work and on minimum salaries, without work place protection.
– Condemned the actions of Blic media and Ringier Axel Springer, in their ruthless dismissals of journalists in 2015
– That the privatisation process needs to take place in fully transparent manner that ensures the interests of journalists are properly respected, that guarantees pluralism and diversity of ownership and independence.
– Called on UNS, NUNS and SINOS to work closely together to address the issue of precariousness in the media and to form coalitions with the broader trade union movement to establish social dialogue and collective bargaining in the media sector
– Welcomed the offer by the owner of TV Kopernicus media to start social dialogue discussions with SINOS with a view to recognising a trade union branch and completing a collective agreement
– Welcomed the participation of the ministry of Labour while regretting the absence of ministry of Culture and Information in the meeting, nevertheless called on the Serbian government to do more to protect freedom of association and journalists’ rights including
– Acting to punish media companies that breach labour laws and stop the free organising of trade unions
– Creating environment for social dialogue. Where there is no employer association then the government should take role of negotiator on the basis of current practice in Serbia and Croatia in other sectors.
– Further called on the OSCE to support this process and the campaign for improved freedom of association and work place rights for journalists.

UNS, NUNS and SINOS additionally declared :
– That all three organisations work together for the rights of journalists – professional and labour
– That labour rights is fundamental to professional rights and quality journalism
– That labour conditions of journalists should be an issue for government media policy and that existence of unions and collective agreements should be one of the criteria for awarding of any public funds.
– All three organisations should be consulted on media policy with respect to their different mandates and ability to represent the views of the members they represent.

Finally, participants thanked the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Union to Union for their support to the meeting and the ongoing campaign to strengthen journalists unions and labour conditions.

Photo : MK/EFJ