Bristol NUJ response to the Covid-19 crisis

| March 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

Compiled by Robin Whitlock

The information put out by the NUJ directly to help journalists during the crisis can be found here.

The top concern for many freelances will be how they can get help from the Chancellor’s scheme, announced yesterday, for grants to the self-employed. The NUJ’s advice on the freelance scheme can be found here.

Journalists working on the Covid-19 crisis are classed as key workers and are allowed to go outside. But the NUJ believes journalists should recognise that this is a global public health emergency and that moving around without a good reason can risk spreading the virus and threaten people’s lives. Furthermore, all journalists should be aware of their own health, alongside those of others.

The NUJ has been consulting with the government with regard to how journalists can work during the crisis. The Press card is the official accreditation and should be shown to police officers if challenged. Employers including Reach have issued letters of identity to journalists who don’t have Press cards. (If your Press card is due to expire within the next few weeks, get your renewal application in now. We don’t know how long it will take for cards to be issued.)

Journalists should have freedom of movement when reporting, but although some journalists have been given key worker status by the government, this only applies when reporting on the crisis and other relevant matters relating to it. The Scottish government have not, as yet, adopted the same key worker definition as England, but the NUJ has contacted the Scottish government to request journalists be defined as key workers. There has been no announcement by the Irish government to lockdown the Republic and so the key worker issue doesn’t, as yet, apply there.

The key worker definition should cover most journalists and support staff employed by Bristol’s various news media, which means that they can continue to send their children to school and childcare.

NUJ members who are involved in critical work but are experiencing difficulty due to logistical restrictions, for example after being challenged by the police, can contact Bristol NUJ chair Paul Breeden on 07811 766072. The union has been in contact with Avon & Somerset Police over journalists’ key worker status and will liaise with the police if problems arise.

Employers should ensure that staff work from home wherever possible. They should also ensure that handgel is provided in offices and encourage regular handwashing and extra cleaning of surfaces, especially those used by the public. Special consideration should be given to workers with underlying health conditions or with vulnerable relatives at home and they should be allowed to work from home. Employers should also extended sick pay if necessary so that staff do not have to come into work when they should be at home in isolation.

Journalists should not come into close contact with colleagues or members of the public and should ‘social distance’ by keeping 2-metres away from others wherever possible.

Masks are said to be mainly useful if you are caring for someone who has the virus. The most effective masks are those usually used to guard against asbestos exposure (designated FFP3). These will probably be very hard to obtain.

Every workplace where a union is recognised should have a health and safety representative who has legal protection, and thus can raise relevant concerns with employers. This includes the BBC, Bristol Live and Immediate Media. Other employers are covered by separate legislation requiring them to listen to staff safety concerns.

Specific advice for freelances can be found on the NUJ website here.

A briefing on the responsibilities of employers and employees during the Covid crisis can be found here.

Advice from the union on Statutory Sick Pay, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit can be found here.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced this week that some freelance journalists and photographers, those with profits of up to £50,000 with the majority of their income coming from self-employment, will be able to claim up to 80 percent of their earnings through a cash grant provided by the government. Unfortunately, the first such payment will not be made until early June, although it will be backdated to March. The new self-employed income support scheme will consist of a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of average monthly profits from the past three years. This will be a maximum of £2,500 per month for three months; the scheme will be extended if necessary. According to the Chancellor, the scheme should cover 95 percent of those who are self-employed. However, anyone experiencing an immediate cash flow problem should access universal credit in the meantime.

“Freelances had all but been forgotten, so we are pleased the Treasury has listened to us and our sister unions, as many of our members are desperate and facing a frightening future with all their work cancelled,” said Pamela Morton, freelance national organiser for the National Union of Journalists, responding to the Chancellor’s announcement. “We welcome the offer from the Treasury to look at the details and how the deal will work for members, but our concern is about how soon the funding will reach people.”

Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, said there are many details to work through including how those who have paid themselves through dividends will fit into this scheme and also the time-scale.

Bristol branch is going to investigate how many older, perhaps retired members of the branch who might need help. For journalists who are continuing to actively work in the field, thankfully now identified by the Government as key workers, the branch has set up a WhatsApp group so that they can share experiences and concerns about working during the present Covid-19 crisis.

Of further importance is knowing what kind of financial situation the Covid-19 crisis places the union in, and whether there are grounds for a potential freeze on membership subscriptions. This idea has already been suggested at meetings of the NUJ emergency committee and finance committee this week, but no decisions have been forthcoming.

The NUJ’s biennial conference, or Delegate Meeting, due to be held in April in Southport, has been postponed indefinitely. Without it, the planned increase in union subscription charges cannot take place – the decision would need an agreement at DM with a two-thirds majority.

Category: Branch News, Featured, Local action, Members' Area

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