It is good that the MEAA has finally taken the first step to change the standard Fairfax freelance contract.
The standard Fairfax freelance contract, which has been in place for three years, is viewed by many freelancers as particularly unfair. For example, if Fairfax publish three pieces of work by a freelancer within a six month period then that freelancer is forbidden to have work published by any other major newspaper or magazine and Fairfax are not required to provide any further work. In other words, for the sake of work worth $3000 at the very most a freelancer is prevented from earning a living. Other clauses relating to licenses allowing Fairfax to use freelancers’ work for no extra compensation are also of concern.
While the Fairfax contract is particularly harsh, it is nonetheless symptomatic of increasingly poor working conditions for freelancers industry wide.
By approaching the ACCC in late December 2009, the union will learn whether it can represent freelancers like it represents journalists who are employees. If it can, then there is no reason why the union can’t begin a bargaining process where Fairfax management will have to come to the negotiating table.
The Sydney Freelance Journalists Group will report whether the union can represent us effectively in this important issue when the ACCC’s decision is made sometime next year.