Give guide guidance!
TWO YEARS after the last update, the Freelance Industrial Council is revising the Freelance Fees Guide.
Talk to any freelance and you'll find that she or he has plenty to say about it. Two views predominate.
View 1 is something along the lines of "Some of these rates are completely unrealistic. There is no way anyone would commission me for that price -- get real!"
View 2, by contrast, is that the rates in the guide are ridiculously low, allowing freelances to charge so little is damaging to all, the rates should be just about doubled and NUJ members should be required to demand these, on pain of being disciplined by the Union.
In an attempt to reconcile these, and putting aside the curious idea that a trade union should discipline its members for being exploited, let's look at what the guide is designed to do, and how it is compiled.
It has been suggested that the whole question of freelance rates is ideally covered by formal agreements with publishers and that recommending rates the union cannot enforce is a meaningless exercise. This is to misunderstand the nature of the Guide.
The minima are not equivalent to formal agreements and are not meant to take their place where these exist. The Guide does not set rates, or even demand them. It is not possible for the NUJ as a body to insist that publications with whom it has no agreement pay the minima, and equally impossible, even if it were desirable, to police the sums our members accept.
It simply aims to help newcomers to freelancing, or newcomers to a particular sector, know what sorts of fees are reasonable to expect as a minimum and enable them to use this information to bargain on their own behalf. Members are always encouraged to ask for more -- it can never do any harm, and if you don't ask, you won't get.
They are exhorted not not to settle for less than the recommendations -- working for low rates, as "View 2" suggests, harms more than just the individual immediately involved.
The rates are not pulled out of the air. Information is sought from industrial councils, the "Rate for the Job" section of the Freelance, interested freelances and from agreements and guidelines where these exist. The guide -- drawn up under the collective eye of the Freelance Industrial Council -- attempts to distil this all this information into recommended minima.
The Guide is being revised now, and you have any comments, let me know. Instantly, as time is running out, and revisions are already under way.
© 1998 NUJ & contributors