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The Typical Form of Work

A survey conducted by the European Federation of Journalists revealed disparities in conditions freelancers face and in the levels of their social rights’ protection.

by: Matija Mrakovčić

FOTO: Chris Beckett

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A survey that mapped freelance journalists, i.e. professional journalists with no employment, conducted between May and November 2015, was launched by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) in order to update their database regarding the social status of the freelance journalists and their position in professional associations in Europe. Thirty-three organizations from 28 countries responded to the survey, and the results revealed disturbing differences in the levels of their social rights’ protection, and particularly in their right to organise themselves in unions to defend their professional interests. 

Freelance journalism is no longer an atypical form of work. It is well known that the great problem in Croatian newsrooms is the RPO, which violates the model of registered tax payers by giving journalists with freelance status (independent journalists) the same obligations as employed journalists, but not nearly the same rights. This in turn discourages any serious union activity, because nothing prevents the employer from firing such workers.

While some affiliates, like the German Deutscher Journalisten-Verband (DJV) and the Polish Association of Journalists (Stowarzyszenia Dziennikarzy Polskich), indicate a very high rate of freelancer’s affiliation (around 70% of members), others, like the Turkish Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikası (TGS) and the Greek Enossi Syntakton Imerission Efimeridon Makedonias Thrakis (ESIEMTH), don’t accept them at all. In Turkey, any worker who wants to join a journalist’s trade union must be an employee and active in the media sector. The membership in the union is automatically lost if you get fired from your job or change your status.

In most cases (57% of respondents), freelancers need to have professional journalist status, defined by the national legislation, in order to become members of unions and associations. In Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Poland, a minimum threshold of publications is also a condition for the membership. Only 54% of affiliates handle the issue of freelancers on the level of national (31%) and local (23%) branches of unions or associations. See more about the survey here or be part of it here.

Croatian freelance or employed journalists didn't participate in the survey, and neither did the Trade Union of Croatian Journalist (TUCJ), that numbers more than 3000 members and has branches in more than 60 media. Members of the TUCJ can be journalists and media employees, as well as freelance and retired journalists.

In 2013, The Croatian Association of Freelance Professionals was founded, as a non-profit association aimed at representing the interests of certain groups of workers – freelancers, who are not recognized by Croatian laws. The Association currently has around 2350 members from all parts of Croatia, and most of them belong to the cultural and creative industries. However, the Association also includes around 90 journalists. At the beginning of 2015 they presented the results of their first national survey, which offered the first good insight into local freelance business.

Their official website describes the Association as a “contemporary kind of union, based on the values of cooperation, openness, togetherness, approachability and sustainability”, although it is not financed according to the union model and cannot access public funding like classical unions. Its president Matija Raos explains that members include natural persons who are working on author contracts or temporary service contracts or self-employed legal persons (independent activity, craft, j.d.o.o. or d.o.o.). “What connects us is that we are all individuals and our own bosses, and we are faced with a great deal of problems stemming from our professional perception (prejudice and misconceptions), unsympathetic institutions, complicated everyday business (bureaucracy), uncertainty (the dynamics of jobs and income), collecting fees, no protection from bad clients (lack of business culture), high taxes, negative credit rating, lack of social and office infrastructure and, very often, difficulty to balance private and business life”.

In context of journalistic profession, organizing seems to be necessary, considering the RPO system. It is a question, says Nataša Škaričić, “of extreme importance for news publishers, and it follows that what is important to the publishers is also important to the state. All the publishers in the country want the RPO to stay the way it is, in practice. They want it to be legal for journalists to do what full employees do, but with permanent status of freelancers – independent journalists”.

Translated from Croatian by Lana Pukanić.

Editor’s Note: a j.d.o.o. is a type of "simple LLC" which basically differs only in registration process while RPO could be loosely translated as "tax payers’ registry" and mainly concernes self-employed taxable individuals.  

Objavio/la vatroslav [at] 10.12.2015