Fairness for whom at work?

THE government's employment white paper "Fairness at Work" poses some difficult issues for freelances. The very welcome extension of employment rights to casuals and other non-staff workers could entail less welcome changes in taxation. And there will need to be vigilance to preserve the intellectual property rights of freelances.

Potential problems also arise from the grant of recognition to unions with a majority of the workforce in membership. In its response to the white paper, the NUJ calls for all non-staff workers to be entitled to representation by their trade union on matters related to their work, giving as examples the entitlement of freelances to be represented on non-payment or late payment, disputes over copyright, etc.

This is welcome, although freelances whose nexus with their customers is entirely contractual can at present choose whoever they wish to represent them in their disputes.

There might be a danger, though, that unorganised "freelances" -- even those who write, say, one obituary in a lifetime -- could be mobilised against recognition. The union's position is that "where employers are using voluntary freelances, those freelances must have rights to be represented and covered by collective agreements", though "their independent status should not be jeopardised in relation to self-employed status, tax status, ownership of copyright, moral rights, &c."

This is a more pressing real problem than the possibility, raised in the union's response to the white paper, that employers will re-structure their operations around "voluntary freelances" to avoid recognition.

Jan/Feb 1999
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