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EU | Unionisation and collective bargaining for freelancers

Dublin conference on freelance workers

In Dublin, on 11 and 12 February 2020, FIM, FIA, UNI-​MEI and EFJ –with the sup­port of SIPTU– organ­ised the final con­fer­ence of the European project on union­i­sa­tion and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for free­lance work­ers in the enter­tain­ment and media sectors.

Opened by a speech from Patricia King, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), the con­fer­ence brought togeth­er over one hun­dred par­tic­i­pants from European Union coun­tries or can­di­dates to acces­sion. The debates includ­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives from unions, the European Commission, the OECD, ILO, ETUC and gov­ern­ments, as well as uni­ver­si­ty aca­d­e­mics, researchers and lawyers spe­cial­is­ing in labour law.

Presentations and dis­cus­sions showed that things were devel­op­ing in a pos­i­tive way. For exam­ple, the author­i­ties in charge of com­pe­ti­tion law enforce­ment in Ireland and the Netherlands are today more open-​minded when it comes to access for free­lancers to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, on a labour mar­ket where sup­ply large­ly exceeds demand. For its part, the OECD rec­og­nizes the pos­i­tive impact of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing on the econ­o­my and its con­tri­bu­tion to growth.

The OECD rec­og­nizes the pos­i­tive impact of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing on the econ­o­my and its con­tri­bu­tion to growth

Nevertheless, the legal ques­tions around the notion of work­er are still con­tro­ver­sial and the exces­sive­ly bina­ry approach preva­lent in the EU dif­fers from that of ILO, which is com­par­a­tive­ly more com­pre­hen­sive and pro­tec­tive. It is also inter­est­ing to note that with­in the body of jurists who sup­port the prin­ci­ple of wide access for free­lancers to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, legal analy­ses diverge as to the rel­e­vance of ECJ jurispru­dence (FNV-​KIEM rul­ing of 4 December 2014).

Facilitators Becky Wright, Kate Elliot and Tara O’Dowd pre­sent­ed the result of the work car­ried out with some unions. Representatives of the unions con­cerned expressed their sat­is­fac­tion. Several indi­cat­ed that they had tak­en advan­tage of this oppor­tu­ni­ty to review their approach to their free­lance mem­bers. In some coun­tries, there had been ini­tia­tives to strength­en the union and attract new members.

Over the com­ing months, a pub­li­ca­tion pre­sent­ing good prac­tices cov­er­ing union­i­sa­tion of free­lancers will be made avail­able. Moreover, the four fed­er­a­tions will be study­ing how to fol­low up this project, whether this con­cerns strength­en­ing unions, rela­tion­ships with com­pe­ti­tion author­i­ties or the best way to ensure real pro­tec­tion for all work­ers, regard­less of the legal qual­i­fi­ca­tion of their contracts.

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