Motion 2: unions empower self-employed workers

Monday 19 April 2021

UNI Europa affiliates gathered for a webinar to exchange experience on the opportunities and barriers to organising and collective bargaining for self-employed workers.  Two testimonies from ver.di, Germany and FNV-Media Cultuur, Netherlands kicked off the discussions among the over 100 participants and showcased the unions’ efforts in the broadcasting sector.

In Germany, ver.di represents more than 30,000 freelancers and self-employed workers across several services sectors and has a dedicated team to cater for their interests. Matthias Van Fintel, Head of ver.di’s media section underlined that the specific provisions of the German trade union law allows the union to negotiate terms and conditions for certain self-employed workers. In the media sector, the union has developed a “golden rule” of always negotiating and concluding collective agreements for self-employed workers at the same time as those for employees, to allow for solidarity between workers. Recently, the union has also used regional laws to achieve equal co-determination rights for freelancers in works councils of public broadcasters.

In the Netherlands, public broadcasting employers have consistently rejected efforts to include discussion of freelancers’ low rates within agreements. In this context, FNV Media & Cultuur has over the last year worked to develop a  Fair Practice Code regulating public broadcasting companies’ agreements with freelancers and setting minimum rates at 150% of collectively agreed minimum wages for employees. The code – a first in the Netherlands – is an agreement between the trades unions, the employers’ association, and the governing organisation of public broadcasters (NPO), and its underlying principle is that employees should not be put in competition with freelancers working at very low rates. A committee of trade union and employer representatives will monitor the implementation of the Fair Practice Code that entered into force on 1 December 2020.

UNI Europa is actively supporting affiliates in their efforts to empower self-employed workers. Several projects including cooperation projects with sister organisations such as the European Federation of Journalists, the Internal Federation of Actors and the International Federation of Musicians have been providing capacity building and peer-to-peer training over the last two years on organising and representation of self-employed workers. In the framework of the project ‘Shaping the future of work in a digitalised services industry through social dialogue’ UNI Europa has surveyed the situation and best practice with regards to organising, representation and collective bargaining of self-employed workers.

The report underlines that the efforts of unions to empower self-employed colleagues is hurt by provisions of EU competition law that define self-employed workers solely as undertakings. Recent jurisprudence has ruled that collective bargaining of self-employed constitutes “price-fixing”. UNI Europa is fighting this injustice and is working to achieve legislative change that would ensure that self-employed can collectively bargain. The recent initiative of the European Commission on self-employed and EU competition law is a unique opportunity to make this change happen.

UNI Europa Regional Secretary, Oliver Roethig addressed this important point during the discussion with participants of the webinar and underlined that: “it is our goal to strengthen the position of self-employed workers in the labour market and put end to their precarious situation and legal uncertainty. With the recent initiative of the European Commission, we can bring about change and ensure that EU competition law does not any longer prevent self-employed workers and their unions to collectively bargain. We will be working closely with affiliates, the ETUC and our sister organisations to ensure that a legislative initiative guarantees that all workers, regardless of their employment status, can enjoy freely their fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining.

UNI Europa is actively participating in the consultation process of the European Commission initiative and has issued a first position paper. Download the document here.

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