Here to help: NUJ Extra
THE NUJ's charity, now called NUJ Extra, is there to help members in need, Chris Wheal told the February London Freelance Bracnch meeting. Its work is of course confidential, but he could give general examples.
There was a member who fled her partner due to violence: the charity worked with the women's refuge that had housed her for a couple of years and bought furniture for her new house when she got rehoused. The charity has bought wheelchairs, orthopaedic beds... and sometimes paid bills - first those whose non-payment would lead to prison; next those that might lead to homelessness, then utility bills - never credit card bills. It has even had to pay the £400 fee for going bankrupt, for a member whose finances were so dire that they couldn't afford this way out.
The charity works closely with the Journalists Charity - better known by its old name the Press Fund - and with whatever other body can help anyone who has been an NUJ member for at least a year and is in geniune need.
Chris, who specialises in reporting on insurance, business and public finance, chairs NUJ Extra's board of trustees. He outlined the origins of the name "NUJ Extra": first there was the traditional Widows' and Orphans' Fund; then the Charity Commission instructed it to split off the part that supported people who were neither widows nor orphans; then the Commission wanted the two charities to merge.
The charity has to be very conservative with investing its capital. As a trade union body it couldn't possibly invest in an enterprise that might use child labour. It doesn't use branded "ethical investment" funds. These may be untainted by booze and fags, but none has anything to say about workers' rights. "Corporate Social Responsibility guidelines allow companies to get gold stars for using fewer paperclips and recycling memo paper," Chris says, "even though they don't recognise trades unions and pay contractors 90 days late."
So NUJ Extra was talking to investment advisers and people in the City about worker-friendly investment funds - they were really excited about the idea eight months ago. It was going to be the biggest thing that had hit the City for ages. Then something bigger hit the City.
The first thing the charity does on receiving an application is to talk to the Branch Welfare officer, who can visit the member. Chris asked us to thank Chris O'Donnell for the fantastic work she's done over recent years: and we do.