Freelance Journalists' Social Status Survey Phase I, October 1997

Report by the Freelance Expert Group (FREG) of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ):

Freelance Journalists' Social Status

Survey Phase I, October 1997: Income

The questionnaire was sent on May 15, 1997, to all 45 member unionsof the European Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 35 countries.The response being from 20 unions in 19 countries (figure by October20, 1997).

The social status was measured by income, compared to that ofstaff journalists. Other standards were: Right to deduct professional costs in taxation, social security in form of holiday compensation, health and other insurance as well as unemployment compensation.Better training brings more economical value, therefore support given for freelances' studies and further vocational trainingwas one of the central questions.

A catch of less than 50% (of the member unions) might seem poor.On the other hand, the results cover an interesting variety of European countries, as to historical, economical, social and cultural framework. In fact, if we don't have the whole picture, we do have a nice nugget.

It is obvious that, some unions have answered according to researchdone among their freelance members. Some unions again, refer toless specified knowledge. However, all information is valuable.

Table 1. Income

Income was given in national currency, which here is exchangedinto US dollars, to make some comparison possible. Exchange ratewas taken from the records of The Financial Times, October17, 1997.

When studying the figures, we have to keep in mind:

Wages are related to the general living standard of the country.

The conception of income might be understood in different ways. Do we mean by income the total turnover or sales of a freelance?Then a deduction of professional expenses should be made first,to get the wage, or real income, as basis for taxation. Take hereas an example Denmark. The monthly turnover of a Danish freelance is US$ 3879. The figure $ 3668 shows income after deduction of expenses, that is the income to be taxed. We don'tknow how many of the respondents have thought of income as totalturnover, or as a wage. We're inclined to choose the first alternative,since we asked for gross income before taxation.

Income is also depending on the form of activity of a freelance,as well as on the status given to freelance in different countries. Is he/she considered a wage earner, a self employed or does he/she have a firm? Practices vary from country to country. As within the country, too, that can be seen in the answers from Denmark and Norway. Taxation and right to deduct professional expenses also depend on the form of activity. We only asked if the costs of the profession are accepted as deduction. To go further intotaxation practices in various countries would have been too difficult task within the frames of this research.

Therefore, because we don't know the net income of freelances,we don't know their real living standard, either. To correctthis lack of knowledge, we asked to compare the freelancer's averageincome to that of a staff journalist. Here we can see an adequate situation. That freelances earn less than staff members goes for majority of the answering countries. How much less, that you cansee in the table. But is this the truth? It might be much moreless, considering how much a freelance is paying, to beable to carry on journalism as a profession. About this we geta picture when studying the following tables on social security.

Table 2. Holiday Compensation

As we can see, only in four countries there exists, to a certaindegree, a system of compensating holiday for freelances. These examples include some limiting terms. E.g. a freelance must earn a certain income from the publishing house before getting the compensation. Or, like in Denmark, there are collective agreements between freelances and some publishing houses, including a paragraph on holiday compensation. So, the practice is not general,covering all the work done by a freelance.

Freelances are considered self employed, or small entrepreneurs. Therefore, the employers are not necessarily by law obligated to compensate holidays. This means a freelance, in order to getsome holiday, has to save at least one and a half month's netincome, to be able to take a four weeks vacation. Why so much? Because his/her general costs, like rent of the office room and facilities, service of the equipment, fees for social securityand insurances, and maybe part payment on bank loans, don't keepholidays.

Table 3. Health Insurance

This table shows clearly how unsafe the status of freelances is in many countries. As drop outs from the social security benefits,determined by law, freelances are left on their own. Surprisingly, in some countries, freelances are paying quite a big sum of money to governmental or private health insurance fund, and still get a minimum sick pay per day. Alarming is that there are countries where national law of health insurance doesn't concern freelances at all, and that there are countries, where no sick pay for freelances exist.

Table 4. Accident and Life Insurance

This question was motivated by the fact that, freelances in many countries are sent 'to the front line', they have more often dangerous commissions than staff members and, and they also involve themselvesinto conflicts, as investigating journalists, or in order to make more money they need. The table explains clearly the situation in Europe.

Table 5. Unemployment Compensation

Considered as self employed, freelances couldn't possibly be unemployed.This is the general opinion. However, unemployment hits freelances as heavily as staff members, during the times of economical turbulenceor depression. Even during high conjuncture, freelances may be unemployed for shorter, or longer periods.

Compensation of unemployment varies considerably, and is not easilycomparable, as we learn from the answers. The general line seemsto be; a minimum compensation paid by the government.

One way to ease the freelances' situation could be a systemof equalisation of taxes. Meaning a freelance might get a lowertax percentage during a low conjuncture year.

Table 6. Financial Support for Studies

Since freelances are working individually, and mostly alone (without professional or moral support of the editorial office framework), further vocational training, training at specific freelance skills and other specific studies (like languages) is needed. We asked how such studies or training are supported by the unions and,whether there are special funds for freelances for this purpose. Union or governmental grants seem to be quite rare. More thanhalf of the unions arrange free of charge courses, or courses of low rate, for freelances. In some cases private funds provide freelances with economical support. Denmark and Finland have informed that copyright royalties are used for funding the studies. This happens through collecting societies, where grants can be applied for.

Tutta Runeberg

Chair of the EFJ Freelance Expert Group