European Federation of Journalists

Unions must change and cannot return to ‘business as usual’ after pandemic, report says

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According to a recently published trade unions’ report by Unions 21 on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on unions and responses to these new challenges, trade unions are stronger than before the pandemic. Despite the difficult conditions, trade unions improved in membership recruitment, activism, engagement, and collective bargaining outcomes. However, the report warns that unions should not return to the pre-pandemic ‘business as usual’ mode in the future, but rather work toward building on changes made in 2020.

The report made a series of recommendations for trade unions moving forward. They include the need to identify effective ways for ‘hybrid working’, rethinking how unions are structured to increase coordination and cooperation while teams are split between the office and working remotely at home. This should give consideration to the new skills required as new working processes are established, and providing ample support to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of journalists who are prone to overworking remotely and have reduced contact with members.

Unions would need to adapt by enhancing engagement from the silent majority to obtain greater quality information that better represents members, providing training, and upgrading communication infrastructure to embrace new forms of digital platforms with increased visibility and wider reach. Unions also need to ensure that they have sufficient analytical capacity to process the increased amount of information that members share with unions during the pandemic.

The report finds that union membership has increased since the start of the pandemic due to its benefits of providing protection and defending members’ interests. Recruitment of new health and safety representatives has also significantly increased. However, there are widespread fears of members leaving in the coming months with the forecast of job losses and reducing government support in hard-hit industries. To prevent membership declining, unions may need to consider their membership fees and place renewed emphasis on retention initiatives.

The report addresses three different categories of workers and the different types of risks they face: those who have continued to work in their regular place of work throughout the pandemic, those whose work has either ceased temporarily or permanently, and those who have teleworked from home. Many journalists fall into one or several of these categories, and freelancers are particularly vulnerable. As such, this report contributes to the dialogue on how unions can secure a better working life for journalists, one which feels especially critical at this moment.

Unions have demonstrated how to successfully combine online and offline campaign tactics, increasing engagement with the government and creating opportunities for unions to advocate for members through greater media attention on working conditions during the pandemic. The pandemic has changed the economic backdrop to negotiations with employers, allowing new Covid-related agreements to be secured which protect key workers like journalists who report on ever-changing health regulations, political and social impacts.

The report was written by Tom Hunt, based on interviews and surveys conducted with union staff and representatives in 33 unions from countries including the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium. The full report can be found here.