European Federation of Journalists

COVID-19: It is time to guarantee social security for all

Credit: EFJ

Amids the Corona Virus Disease pandemic (COVID-19), European governments, EU institutions and social partners take emergency measures to protect workers’ health and lives and avoid an unprecedented economic downturn. EFJ affiliates are working hard to protect their members including the growing number of freelancers.

On March 20, the European Federation of Journalists’ Freelance Expert Group (FREG) had its first online meeting focusing on financial compensation measures for freelancers, many of whom face hardship due to lack of assignments during COVID-19. While some countries have guaranteed immediate financial support for workers and self-employed, others are offering low interest loans and tax exemptions instead of net payment.

“This crisis shows the lack of reliable social security schemes for freelancers and atypical workers in Europe”, agreed the group. ” We appreciate ad-hoc packages, but now it is more obvious than ever before that we need a long-term sustainable strategy on how to protect freelancers and atypical workers in the media and cultural sector.”  said Oddrun Midtbø, FREG co-chair, from Norway. 

“In some countries freelancers do not receive any sick pay or compensation, though journalists are acknowledged in many countries as key workers in case of lockdowns. And loans are not enough, as nobody can assure that after the crisis, they can pay back” added Pablo Aiquel, co-chair from France. “In fact, it is the moment to put the concept of a universal basic income high on each government’s agenda.” 

The Group shared some best practices from European countries (see below), which should give incentives to other affiliates to lobby those governments, who have not yet given sufficient support to self-employed and freelance journalists and other workers from the media sectors.

We congratulate our affiliates in taking such great incentives and creative solutions in helping their members on all sides, including the support for the most precarious workers in journalism, the freelancers”, said EFJ director Renate Schroeder, and supporting the EFJ Freelance Expert Group from the Brussels office. The EFJ will monitor in the coming weeks what is happening at national level and cooperate with the European Trade Union Confederation and the federations from the Entertainment Alliance on this issue.

Belgium (Flanders): Freelancers can rely on both existing and new measures depending on the situation of the freelancer. When the freelancer’s got ill, he or she’s granted a daily amount from day one as soon as he or she is ill for a period of 7 days (measure from 2019). When a freelancer’s not ill but has no income anymore which is the case for sports and art journalists for instance, he or she is entitled to a monthly allowance from the first day of no activity. The monthly payment amounts to 1.614,10€ when you have a family and 1.291,69€ when you don’t. In order to get it, you should just reach out to your social security fund. Other measures taken by the government are: exemption or postponement of the payment of social security contributions for one year for the first two quarters of 2020. Also, self-employed workers can be granted a reduction in their provisional social security contributions for the year 2020. 

France: The government announced to pay 70% of the gross income. So-called “pigistes” should be included in this compensation schemes as they have the same rights as staff journalist. A good practice can be seen at Radio France where exceptional measures are taken to support regular freelance contributors: The gross amount paid will be at least equal to the average of the total gross amount paid during the last six months, i.e. from September 2019 to February 2020 inclusive. Current “piges”  contracts are all maintained, there won’t be any cancellation. For freelancers on fixed-term or fixed-term-unit contracts who do not benefit, during this period of crisis and due to the context, from a contract with Radio France or another employer, the same system will be applied.

Finland: Government has agreed on a 15 billion Corona aid package including measures such as loan guarantees for companies and labor market support. Freelancers and entrepreneurs will be eligible for unemployment compensation, max 724€ a month. Private culture or journalism foundations are offering short term grants with fast decision making process.

The Netherlands: The Dutch government supports all independent workers applying for support with an amount equalling the social minimum pay. The support will be granted for three months without checking other sources such as private capital or partners’ income. According to the Minister of Finance, there will be no cap as to the continuation of the support, if needed.

Norway: Sole proprietors and freelance workers, many of whom have seen their income vanish overnight, will now also qualify for state-financed sick pay after the fourth day, instead of after the sixteenth day, and they can apply for the equivalent of unemployment benefits amounting to 80 percent of their average earnings over the past three years, up to NOK 600,000. (50 000€). The Fritt Ord Foundation will support journalists and other with 3.2 million euros – to projects that “can secure spaces of expression, develop new channels of expression and help a vibrant and vital public”. 

In Portugal, independent workers who need to stay at home with their kids because of the schools closing, will receive one third of their medium income, taking in account the last trimester of 2019. In Portugal, 30% of journalists are independent and/or precarious.

Sweden: The central government will assume the entire cost of all sick pay during April and May. Self- employed persons will also be compensated, as they can receive standardised sick pay for days 1–14. To reduce the risk of the virus spreading in society, the qualifying day for sick pay will be discontinued between 11 March and 31 May, in that central government will pay sickness benefit for the first day of sickness. A special relief package for culture and sports worth 1 billion Swedish Krona (approximately 100 million euros) but it is not yet clear whether self-employed freelancers will receive pay from the unemployment benefit fund without putting the business on hold and still be able to do freelance work. Details including reforms of the unemployment benefit fund are being discussed now by Minister of Work.The Swedish Union of Journalists (SJF) are having a meeting with the minister this afternoon and will stress this demands. A survey SJF made earlier this week among its 1670 freelance members shows that half of the freelancers say they have already missed out on assignments.

In French speaking part of Belgium, the AJP is working on the creation of a solidarity fund for freelance journalists, who have been hard hit by the crisis: many of them have lost all or part of their collaborations. Read more on: www.journalistefreelance.be

In Germany, the unions are not satisfied with the promised support by the government. The German Journalists Association (DJV) describes as insufficient what, according to media reports, the German Federal Government decided to provide as aid for freelancer journalists. An amount of 9.000 to 15.000€ for the duration of three months, as planned, would for many freelance journalists not be enough according to the DJV. The DJV criticised even more the instrument of concessionary loans, which is also in the room.

In Great Britain, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called on the government “to step up” for freelancers to ensure they are not a “forgotten” group during the coronavirus pandemic. In the UK there has not been any package to protect the country’s five million self-employed.