Eight and a half hours of debate, discussion, a few laughs and a few raised voices - it's got to be the National Executive Council.
Meeting on Friday the NEC had a packed agenda - central to it the recent controversy over the signing of an agreement at the Drogheda Independent. The agreement has raised fears among some photogrpahers that the union is turning its back on skilled photography simply in favour of reporters carrying cameras. The NEC was clear - it is not true. By 20 votes to 0 NEC members representing people from every sector and geographical area of the union backed the following motion proposed by President Michelle Stanistreet:
"NEC notes the decision taken by the Emergency Committee on 2 August 2007 in regard to the Drogheda Independent agreement. It reiterates the Committee’s complete confidence in all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement.
NEC acknowledges the fears raised by some members and branches regarding the potential implications of the agreement, in particular on the livelihood of photographers.
NEC welcomes the public commitment of the Chapel, in line with NUJ policy, to protecting the rights of freelances and staff working for the title and assures the Chapel and freelances of the full support of the union in attempts to stop the company introducing measures which undermine the professionalism or terms and conditions at the papers.
The NEC acknowledges the particular circumstances – including the withdrawal of the company from the RNAI and consequent threat to pay and conditions and pensions - of the Drogheda Independent which gave rise to the agreement. It is not intended that Clause 6.1 in its entirety should be considered a model clause. The NEC urges the Commission on Multimedia working to develop a model clause for use in future negotiations taking in to account best practice.
NEC recognises the central role of Chapels in negotiating local agreements and reaffirms the need to ensure new working practices are consistent with the NUJ Code of Working Practices.
The NEC reaffirms the union’s commitment to protecting and advancing the interests of all its members. NEC believes that industrial strength and solidarity between staff and freelances are the key means to protect jobs and terms and conditions for all.
NEC resolves to:
· Carry out a survey on the extent of multi-skilling across the UK and Ireland media industry.
· Organise in conjunction with the Commission on Multi-Media Working, a discussion at ADM on the issue of multi-skilling and defending professional standards in light of the development of new technologies".
A second resolution was also passed:
"The NEC notes that Clause 6.1 of the Drogheda Independent Agreement seeks to ensure that the NUJ will have a direct role in the implementation of new work practices governing the use of digital cameras by reporters. NEC affirms that any model agreement must recognise the vulnerable position of professional photographers in the emerging media landscape."
It's clear that there are many good things about the Drogheda Agreement but there are also some genuinely held fears that it will lead to photographers being kicked out of work and replaced by unskilled professionals. Supporters of the agreement say it won't mean that, opponents say it will. I don't believe it will and I don't believe the union could stand by if any employer tried to do that.
What became clear in the discussion is that all over the place new technology is being introduced and working practices are changing - in some places we have been strong enough to insist it is done on our terms, in some others we have been too weak to have any impact, in the vast majority of cases we have reached a compromise agreement. The reality is that unless we build our industrial strength - both staff and freelances working together - we will not be in a position to secure jobs and terms and conditions no matter how great the model clauses our Multimedia Commission comes up with.
We must use the Drogheda episode to learn that lesson.