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‘Pigistes pas pigeons’ event re: freelance working conditions 29-30 March PDF Print E-mail

Event called ‘Pigistes pas pigeons’ – international colloquium on 29 and 30 March – is about delivering decent working conditions for freelancers and is part of a campaign launched in September 2006.

The text is made up of sections summarising points made by speakers - EU-wide, Flanders, Quebec (Canada), France, UK and Ireland.



European Journalists Federation[1] (EFJ) Director Renate Schroeder says that one of the biggest challenges facing trade unions across Europe is the right to negotiate collective agreements for workers – by giving them (and that includes freelances) the status of ‘worker’ to protect them under International Labour Organisation standards. The last five years have seen a tendency for collective negotiations to be abandoned in favour of individual negotiations.

Example of action underway: The EFJ expressed its full support to the Danish Union of Journalists which has given the Danish based European media company Aller Press A/S a month notice of a boycott effective from 1st April 2007. From that date, no freelance member of the Danish Union of Journalists (DJ) is allowed to accept any freelance work from Aller Press A/S. The reason for the boycott is to put pressure on the management to include the freelance work in the collective agreement. Aller Press A/S sent out non-negotiated contracts to all their freelances, demanding that they allow Aller Press A/S to reuse their material in all Aller´s media in Denmark and in the Nordic based Aller companies and for resale in the rest of the world, on totally unacceptable terms and conditions. The DJ will compensate freelances for the economic losses they will have during the boycott.

Presenting the main results of an International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) survey, Schroeder said freelancers are typically paid a set rate, often by the article, and generally don’t enjoy the same working conditions as permanent employees. They often only have an oral agreement, no contract and work for between one and four employers.

In Denmark and Germany, full-timers are asked to do a range of tasks (eg photographer and editor) and so have less time to do investigative journalism. The Danish trade union said that having a range of skills was also a good thing. In Germany, freelances are not paid enough to do investigative journalism so they produce articles of lesser quality. Most new freelancers are young people just starting out in the profession.

In most countries, tax systems are tough for freelancers – they don’t enjoy the same social rights as employees.


There is a need for greater clarity as to the definition of a freelance journalist and what he/she does in areas such as copyright – negotiations are often carried out at local or company level for the moment.

Some recommended freelance rates




0,90 euro per line of 60 characters


10-15 euro per page with double space


116 euro per hour


47 euro per hour


310 euro per day

She said that there was a lack of solidarity between freelancers and staffers, suggesting transparency in pay between the two groups, that they train together and that freelancers are included in discussions.

Trade unions in central and eastern Europe are very weak as is legislation there while employers are very powerful

At the EU level, the Commission produced a green paper on the modernization of workers’ rights to face the challenges of the 21st century in November 2006. The EFJ has submitted its contribution, with one of its main demands being on defining a minimum set of rights for all workers irrespective of whether they have a contract or not.

EFJ launched a  Charter of Freelance Rights last year:


Pol Deltour, from the Flemish journalists’ union VVJ-AVBB, said that the ‘Le Livre Noir des journalists independants’ shows Flemish journalists not being treated with the respect of an information professional. He explained that the problem of ‘faux independants’ [freelancers in name but working more or less full time for one publication] was a major one marked by poor levels of pay and insecure employment conditions. With a new Belgian law on ‘faux independants’ on the way, employers are switching to ‘contrats interimaires’, whereby the journalist has the status of an employee, but companies can use this as a prolonged trial period by continually renewing it.

The VVJ-AVBB want publishers to negotiate a standard contract with pay scales, including for freelancers. Publishers say a freelance standard contract is OK but no pay scales. Solidarity between freelancers and full-timers is “deplorable”. The union has opened its doors to non-professional and non-accredited journalists. Non-professional journalists can become members for a discounted fee, for which they can benefit from information and the services of a specialist freelance adviser, Ivan De Clerck.

Quebec, Canada

Christine Dupont, from a professional body in Quebec, highlighted the high levels of concentration of the media in Canada, where the media are “enslaved” to the interests of their owners.

·         No obligation to be members of a trade union and no obligation to have a press card. 56% of freelancers do something else than freelance journalism to bring home the bacon.

·         By law, freelancers can represent only 1% of the wage mass of a newspaper. To do that, it is in the interests of publishers to keep pay levels down.

·         Young people often not taught in universities what awaits them in terms of job insecurity – strong advocate of classes on freelancing.



Saafi Allag-Morris from the Syndicat National des Journalistes in France said that it is in full-timers’ interest to help re: the problem of lack of solidarity between freelancers and full-timers. Her argument: The more ‘pigistes’ are badly paid, the more attractive a proposition they are for companies and this undermines the whole profession. There is no ‘pigiste’ [freelance] status in France. Freelancers are treated like employees in that they get paid holidays, can benefit from training and can take part in editorial meetings. Employers want pigistes to have a freelance-type status but the law does not allow that. With employers seeking to find imaginative ways around this situation, this ultimately leads to a lot of case law. The freelancers generally win but have to spend two years in court and then no longer have any work. If a publisher wants to stop using a ‘pigiste salarie’ [doesn’t exist in UK as far as I know but ‘freelance employee’ might be a reasonable translation], this amounts to a licenciement [redundancy] and they need to explain why and give the ‘pigiste salarie’ notice. The union is therefore in talks with media owners but so far the talks have not borne fruit.

There are no minimum pay scales apart from for the Parisian daily press and the weeklies. A survey 4 to 5 years ago showed pay varying from 20 euro per page of 1,500 characters to 200 euro with 63 euro as the average.

Journalism schools in France train a lot of young journalists but many are unaware of the precariousness of the profession. France is inundated with trainees who are not well paid or work for nothing. There are 12 journalism schools recognised by the profession, with students being given paid placements at the end of their studies. A press card can only be given out if a journalist is being paid so young people also know that the best way of not getting a press card is not to be paid, said Allag-Morris. Schroeder said that young people coming from universities into editorial traineeships and then staying even though they are not paid is a “huge problem” for all the trade unions and one that the EFJ is trying to tackle. The EFJ will start with a survey.

UK and Ireland

Jim Boumellah from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) – UK and Ireland – 7,500 freelancers out of 40,000 members (60-70% penetration of the profession)

Student section – can join for smaller fee / no press card but receive NUJ magazine
Freelance section – Industrial Council for freelancers
Have big company of lawyers to help deal with individual cases
Freelance pack with rights, what NUJ can do for you etc is first thing new members receive
Website with freelance directory and pay scales (excluding Ireland)
Trade union responsible for giving out press cards
Freelance training – we organise training to help them re: IT and to negotiate better
Young people often not given contract or paid – we want minimum wage for them in our latest campaign
EU green paper on workers’ rights very important and exploring ways to exchange documents between countries
Recently – negotiated special deal for insurance for indemnity against defamation

[1] With 260,000 members in 30 European countries, the EFJ has working groups on freelancers, copyright, workers’ rights, public and private radio/TV etc.






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