Unions and the self-employment opportunity

A growing appetite for unions?

Suddenly, it seems, we are seeing an increased appetite for collective voice amongst the most surprising and individualistic group of workers – the self-employed.  Established and new unions are reporting a new enthusiasm with NUJ recruitment up by as much as 60%, and new actors such as The Creator Union coming onto the stage.

But as this week’s UnionDues makes clear, this should be no surprise.  The self-employed sector now accounts for 1 in 6 of UK workers, some 5 million people.  And 40% of them are on poverty pay.

It was also overwhelmingly the self-employed who fell between the cracks of the CJRS and its sister scheme the SEISS,  and who will continue to have to rely on Universal Credit under the successor short-time working scheme,  announced last week.

And it is this group that embraces those shunted into bogus self-employment, with all of the obligations but none of the protections of bona fide employment, and these workers who have seen least protection by government schemes of employment prospects (see last week’s UnionDues to hear Equity’s Jamie Briers talk about the impact on theatre, for example).

Lack of diversity no accident

And as becomes sadly clear, the lack of diversity in the creative industries is no accident – and that makes action on inclusivity imperative.

So we have Pam Morton of the NUJ explain her union’s approach to recruitment and servicing freelancers,  Kate Dearden of Community on how and why the union has pivoted to engage with the self-employed,  founders of the new Creator Union, Kat Molesworth and Nicole Ocran on why unionisation was exactly the right approach in the digital space, and Paul Evans of BECTU on the prospects for organising the growing podcaster population.

And what conclusions can we draw? Well,

  1. The economic drivers are strong…..
  2. ….but diversity and inclusivity issues are also potent.
  3. There are many unions involved, but plenty of members to recruit and….
  4. ….distinct differences in approach between creative and other sectors.

Signposting and urls

If you want to find out more,  you can read Nicole’s article on the formation of TCU, register for the Unions21 webinar on organising freelancers, check-out Sarah Myles’ Rise and Shine project, or explore the UK Audio Network. The TUC’s resolution on the self-employed is here.

Next time….

Next week, we welcome General Secretary of the Scottish TUC, Roz Foyer to talk about organising, the Better Than Zero campaign, working with the Scottish Government and the ever-present debate over independence.

Do join the conversation.  You can email the show at uniondues@makes-you-think.com,  or tweet us @DuesUnion.  Please rate us on the podcast platform of your choice. You can access over 70 other trade union podcasts through the Labor Radio Podcast Network portal. 

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