EFJ Comment on First Stage Consultation of social partners on modernising and improving employment relations

We agree with the Commission that existing rules to regulate employment relationships should be made more flexible 'with a view to allowing for an adequate coverage of the diversity of new forms of work'. Therefore the EFJ wishes to draw the ETUC's attention to the fact that the number of freelance workers, be they journalists, cartoonists photographers, musicians or performers, is increasing quickly and an important category to consider as well. Much of the new work in journalism is performed under more flexible and, from the point of view of journalists and their unions, more vulnerable and difficult terms of employment. Many new positions are based upon part-time work, fixed-term contracts or work for hire arrangements undertaken by freelance journalists.

The problems associated with freelance journalism are very much to do with recognition of social, professional and economic rights. In most European countries employers are reluctant to recognise freelance rights and in some areas they fiercely oppose union efforts to bring freelance issues into the bargaining process.

As Brian Bercusson pointed out in a seminar on 'Social Justice in a Freelance World, organised by the EFJ, 'If employers will not engage ion social dialogue on freelance employment, the Commission could draw upon these agreements for principles, such as non-discrimination, to create a framework for regulation of employment polices in the EU. Employers might then be more willing to come to the bargaining table'.

With regard to paragraph 4.2: What is the problem

Many of the laws and collective agreements were designed for an organisation of work, which is no longer adapted to the increased diversity of situations...

... That some workers risk remaining totally unprotected...

We like to point out one category of workers, that is freelance journalists.

These journalists are self-employed. Since only a few establish small micro enterprises, they are very close to the definition of wage-earners, with the difference that their wage is earned in small lots, and that they are responsible for their social security and pension payments.

They are working somewhere between wage earners and entrepreneurs, and are treated in an unclear way by social security authorities and taxation authorities. While social security officials consider freelances as entrepreneurs, taxation officials treat them like wage earners without full rights to deduct professional and social security costs.

The employers consider freelances as entrepreneurs, also in order to avoid paying for or participating in freelances´ social security payments.

With regard to paragraph 5.1: The establishment of principles.

We agree that

- The modernisation of work organisation must retain the balance between flexibility and security.

- Education and training, in particular lifelong learning, have a crucial role to play... lifelong learning must be considered as an intrinsic component of the European social model

Freelances are offering flexibility to the employers often by losing their own security. They have rarely access to training.

With regard to paragraph in particular Arrangements regarding the home office.

If a freelance chooses to work at home office, he/she loses in most cases the right to deduct office costs in taxation. Having an office outside of home brings a better result concerning taxation. However, many freelances cannot afford renting working premises outside.

With regard to the paragraph 5.3.2: Economically dependent workers.

Freelances belong to the category of workers who do not, or may not correspond to the traditional notion of "employee", but are often economically dependent upon a single source of employment - that is contributing to one publishing house or one multimedia company. Because of the enormous merging of the media industry, very often only a very few publishing houses/media companies can be regarded as potential employers.

We maintain that many freelances are quite comparable to wage earners, since they often work mainly for one employer. But they do not reach an employee status because of the policy of the employers. These freelances may not clearly correspond to entrepreneurs either.

We face a problem between the aims of DG Employment and Social Affairs and those of the DG Competition. The latter rather defines freelances as businesses or liberal professions, and therefore the unions who are organising freelance journalists are not allowed to negotiate on collective agreements or minimum payment recommendations for freelances with the publisher. This kind of agreements is considered as obstacle for free trade. The problem is accentuated at national level, where many of our unions have problems with the Competition authorities when publishing fee recommendation for their freelance members.

As Lowry Evans, Head of Trade and Industry of DG Competition (Former DG V), said during a meeting with the EFJ, freelances are in a gray area. Though often considered as liberal professions, they do not enjoy the protection of closed systems by trade associations such as lawyers, architects etc.

Freelances, working on the basis of assignments from the employers, or offering their contributions to publishers/broadcasters, new media companies, hardly can be considered as big enterprises. They simply do not belong to the standard business area, but they should be respected as a legitimate policy field for social policy.

When modernising the working life, we feel that contractual rules and labour law need some adjustments concerning economically dependent workers, like freelance journalists. A clear definition into wage-earner freelances (comparable to the French pigistes), and entrepreneur freelances having established a firm, would give the workers a proper status, in regard of the employment policy, the flexibility of labour market, and social security of European labour. Re-adjusting the labour law should a high priority should be given to the non-discrimination principle.

Tutta Runeberg

Chair of the EFJ Freelance Expert Group

Renate Schroeder

European Officer, European Federation of Journalists