European journalists today condemned newspaper employers for "callous and unacceptable disregard for the safety of freelance staff" after newspaper bosses announced their opposition to European Union plans to improve the health and safety rights of freelance workers.
"It is a scandal that in an industry that relies daily on reporters who may take risks to deliver the news and pictures, employers are not prepared to take their responsibilities seriously," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, which represents more than 280.000 journalists in 31 countries.
The EFJ and its Freelance Expert Group says that opposition from the European Newspaper Publishers Association to amendments on the European Council's recommendation on health and safety of self-employed workers is putting "profits before safety" and ignoring the enormous contribution made by an increasing pool of freelance journalism that serves the European newspaper industry.
"Each day we record incidents of violence against journalists in many parts of the world, including Europe, and freelance reporters and camera staff, whether covering conflicts or reporting on local events, are particularly at risk," said White, " It is inexcusable for newspaper employers to ignore their responsibilities in this area."
The EFJ notes that although some major news agencies and television networks have developed safety guidelines for reporters on dangerous assignments, newspaper companies have been "conspicuously absent" from efforts to improve safety of journalists within the industry. In recent years the EFJ says that 32 freelance journalists working in the print sector alone have been killed during or because of their work.
"Now we have the unappetising sight of an employers' association trying to wash its hand of responsibility for the people who provide an increasing share of the news material for their newspapers," said White.
The EFJ says that all workers, whether employed, freelance, part-time or on fixed-term contracts should fall under the non-discrimination principle and strongly believes that the broadest protection of the health and safety should apply to all workers - employed, self-employed and part-time.
The EFJ is supporting amendments to strengthen health and safety rights coming from the rapporteur Manuel Pérez Alvarez of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. However, the European Newspaper Association opposing these moves claims freelance journalists "benefit from a great freedom of organisation, flexibility and …tax advantages."
The EFJ contests this as absurd, pointing to Worldwide and European surveys which reveal that social benefits and taxation arrangements available to freelances are extremely limited. Only in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany do freelances receive payments for welfare, insurance and pensions. In addition, many journalists have been forced to become freelances by their former employers. Many unions warn that the increase in freelance journalism is having a negative impact on media quality and there is almost unanimous agreement that the growth of freelance working is a process that undermines staff working conditions.
"To describe freelance journalists majestically as independent entrepreneurs gives a wholly inflated, false and distorted image of the truth," said Aidan White. "Most freelance journalists will find laughable. Many young freelance staff in Europe barely have the means to live off their miserable income from journalism and few of them have the money to spare to pay for provision of health and safety costs."
The EFJ says it will strongly oppose the newspaper employers and challenge them to deliver "at least minimal respect for the health, safety and welfare of all of the people who contribute to the prosperity of the European newspaper industry."