Social and informal situation
SERGEI Guz, President of the Independent Media Union of
Ukraine, joined us as a guest in the "social and informal situation"
of the London Freelance Branch (LFB) party at Headland House on 10 July.
Sergei Guz (left) talks with Branch members through Simon Pirani (second left) at the LFB party on 10 July.
Sergei was in town to meet NUJ national officials, and dropped in to meet the
freelances just before going off to Dorset for the Tolpuddle Martyrs
commemoration. Sergei said that his visit had given him "Useful
experiences here... which have a secondhand application in Ukraine." As
the drink and samosas flowed freely, Sergei (through the translation offices of
the LFB's own Simon Pirani) told the Branch about conditions for Ukranian
"Freelance (which in Ukrainian is freelancer) is a new status,
there's a discussion about who is and who isn't a freelance." The
Independent Media Union's freelance bureau, which started in September last
year, now has 100 members and its own LFB-inspired Rates for the Job website.
More and more people are turning freelance... it's independent from any
employer, but it's very difficult. There are almost no rights. Developing
authors' rights (copyright) is the first priority. A large proportion of
freelance pay is "black", untaxed, in plain brown envelopes. In ninety-nine
per cent of cases no agreement is written down. It is not unusual for journalists to send
articles and when they are published to be paid less than agreed, or even nothing.
There is a new rates structure in place, the problem is that employers
don't take any notice of the law." An NUJ handbook on freelance rights has
already been translated for use by the union in Ukraine, with added information
relevant to the Ukrainian situation.
"Only now is real trade union activism starting in Ukraine as they
realise the market economy bring higher wages - but also a lot of problems,"
Sergei said: "Now they really have to fight for
workers' rights, they have to learn a lot all over again."
The International Federation of Journalists accepted the Independent Union as full
members several weeks ago.
As well as Sergei's Independent Media Union, there is also a Union of Workers
of Culture, an old Soviet era union whose main task used to be to distribute
tickets for state-owned holiday homes in the summer. In Sergei's words,
"They donít do very much and seem to have very good relations with the
employers. Our principle is to create and independent union. There are 1500
members in our (new) union, the Union of Workers of Culture has 7000. There's
also a Soviet-era Professional Association for journalists (not a trade union)
which has 14,000 members" including Sergei.
Sergei estimates there are 30,000 to 50,000 journalists in Ukraine, working for 740
state-owned newspapers, 20,000 independent periodicals, 1200 radio stations
and 30 state TV channels. The eight big private TV stations are owned by
"oligarchs", politically-engaged businessmen.