Collective bargaining for EFJ’s solo self-employed
Solo self-employed journalists now have the possibility to be included in collective bargaining by their unions. But what does this mean in practice? Almost a year since the implementation of the European Commission guidelines on collective bargaining for the solo self-employed, we take a look at how they have benefitted, or not, our members in the EFJ Freelance Expert Group (FREG).
The EFJ has welcomed the Guidelines as an important step towards strengthened collective bargaining and has recognised its counteracting force to rebalance power relations in the labour market.
Nonetheless, these are Guidelines and while they may have an authoritative effect, they are not legally binding on the EU Court of Justice nor on national competition enforcers. Therefore, we asked our members to inform us of the extent to which they influence current practices so that competition authorities refrain from interfering with the work of trade unions defending self-employed workers.
Collective bargaining for freelance journalists (and some obstacles)
This is the most important case for the union right now. The Norwegian Competition Authority implemented the new law from the EU immediately. The union has spent their time studying what rights are connected to these new possibilities when it comes to negotiations and to decide rates.
They will be exploring these guidelines, and more, during the Nordic Freelance 2023 conferencethis September.
Frilans Riks, the section for freelancers within the SJF has managed together with the workplace section of SJF at LO Mediehus the publishing house of the Labor Unions has managed to get the editors in chief to sign a collective agreement for the freelancers that do assignments for their various titles. They are also working to get more publishers to follow their example.
The Union of Journalists in Finland tried to start the negotiations on the working conditions of the self-employed journalists as soon as possible. The Union proposed negotiations to the Finnish Media Federation, an advocacy organisation for private companies in the media and printing industries. Eventually, the Finnish Media Federation announced that it did not agree to negotiate, saying that the collective agreements would be illegal.
The Union established a negotiation working group and sent out a survey asking their freelance members their opinions about collective bargaining. 80 percent of the survey respondents hoped that the union would negotiate and agree on minimum wages, wage increases and various additional compensations. In addition to the fees, the members hope that the union will negotiate especially on copyrights.
Getting there: collective deals on freelancers’ rates
The guidelines only cover collective agreements on working agreements. They do not apply to price rates negotiations. Nonetheless, our members know that this is crucial for freelance journalists, who often find themselves in precarious financial situations. Therefore, we asked about the best examples, and some challenges, on bargaining for collective rates for freelancers.
Since spring 2022, the Flemish-speaking section of the Belgian union for journalists (VVJ) has been succeeding at entering into collective deals with regard to indexation of freelance rates. To this date Mediahuis, DPG Media, VRT, BELGA, as well as smaller outlets finally (more or less) decided to help their freelance workers collectively.
“Collective deals are the only real answer in a competitive, concentrated market, with only a handful of media outlets left and too many candidates,” says VVJ Legal Advisor, Charlotte Michils. “Alone we can never address the imbalance of power.”
A collective norm for freelance journalists at broadcasters was obtained with a minimum fee of €35 per hour, whereas a minimum fee of €30 was obtained at DPG Media, one of the two leading media consortiums in the Netherlands. They are still working on similar results at the other major publishing house, Mediahuis.
The NVJ Tariff calculator is now openly and widely used, where it used to be a taboo in view of Dutch competition law. The tariff calculator proposes a freelance fee of 167% of the hourly fee of an employed colleague with the same experience. NVJ also negotiated that, when payroll workers get a rise, freelancers’ fees follow suit. A small, bit important victory, since freelance tariffs were hardly ever adapted to inflation by newspapers. The union is now preparing a major action to obtain a rise of 7% on top of the ‘normal’ inflation correction, for freelance as well as employed workers.
Read more about the NVJ tariff calculator: https://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2018/12/21/netherlands-nvj-adopts-plan-for-equal-treatment-of-freelance-staff-journalists/
By April 2023, in most public broadcasting institutions (Rundfunkanstalten), DJV and ver.di succeeded in negotiating slight improvements for staff and freelance workers for the period up to 2024/2025. While a net tax fee and social security fee were secured in most cases, and an average 2.8 percent raise was agreed, it is clear that these payments are much less than the inflation rate (which is around 10 percent).
Michael Hirschler, speaker at DJV, commented that “it was a quite unusual conflict this time, as the unions had to organise strikes. Usually, collective bargaining in public broadcasting goes without strikes. In some cases, for instance the big ZDF group, it was the first strike of its kind in history.”
Placing the first stone: Countries without collective bargaining for freelancers
The last FeSP’s congress was devoted to the situation of freelancers. The union agreed to ask the Government to include this group in the general social security system. They also called for their working conditions to be regulated by the collective bargaining agreement that usually covers staff reporters and for a framework agreement to be negotiated between the unions and the employer’s organisations, that should establish minimum rates, at the same level of those established for staff reporters.
Considering that there is but just one collective agreement for employed journalists in Estonia, the talk about freelance collective agreements is for now largely theoretical. The legal system in Estonia sees competition as an obstacle to decision on minimal fee etc. Also, the employers’ association has a historic non-recognition policy when it comes to the association, hence they are not willing to talk to them. Finally, Estonian media houses prefer licence contracts to any other form, which makes collective agreement principles hard to implement.
Want to know more about how your union could use the Guidelines to include freelancers in collective negotiations? Reach out to Rebecca Bonello Ghio, email@example.com.