The Newsquest/Gannet-owned group – publisher of The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times – are tomorrow to merge all picture desks into a single “Group Multimedia Desk”, and look set to attempt to force freelance photographers to work under similar terms.

From Monday, for the first time staff photographers will be pooled and will work across all three titles, producing audio and video in addition to stills. While freelances are still working under existing terms, current negotiations over a new freelance contract suggest that they will eventually will be expected to do the same, without training and supplying their own equipment.

Newsquest has been negotiating with the NUJ over a controversial new freelance contract which refers to “multimedia content”, proposes the scrapping of repro payments for second use and allows the publisher to use commissioned work across all of its websites and electronic editions for a nominal rise in the the shift rate.

While management has backed down on some aspects of the freelance contract following negotiations with the NUJ, freelances are also furious over attempts by management to impose ‘exclusivity’ clauses – meaning freelances cannot resell the work elsewhere – and ‘indemnity’ clauses which shift legal liability from the publisher to the freelance.

New shift rates actually lower than before

Under the new proposals, the commissioned job rate (which includes wire fees and the first 50 miles of travel) would rise from £75 to £90. However, just to keep in line with inflation, rates would need to have risen to £88, not including the price of fuel which has risen from around 80p/litre to around 125p/litre today.

Other shift rates, which are tiered according to the amount of mileage claimed, will rise from current rates of between £120 and £160 to new rates of between £160 and £190 inclusive of mileage. All shift rates represent a drop in real terms compared to the rates paid in 2000 when adjusted for inflation.

In return for the nominal increase, the Herald-Times are proposing the scrapping of ‘repro payments’ when commissioned use is reused in the titles. According to some freelances, this change will mean a drop in their income of several thousand pounds annually.

In early negotiations, management insisted that they should have the right to exclusivity for 28 days – meaning freelances could not resell newsworthy photographs to other publishers – and the right for Newsquest to syndicate the photographs, and keep around half of the profits from re-sales. Freelances spoken to by EPUK have branded both proposals as ‘unacceptable’.

Echoes of 2007 Herald-Times strike

While management have offered to reduce the exclusivity period to seven days, and for freelances to opt-out of syndication on a job-by-job basis, it has refused to move on other issues, including reproduction payments.

The dispute has echoes of the NUJ’s highly successful series of walkouts at the Herald-Times titles last year, which forced a management U-turn over compulsory redundancies.

Staff photographers at the titles are said to be furious after only learning about the merger via an announcement on the newspapers’ company-wide intranet system. Group picture editor John Young is reported to be off work on sick leave since the announcement was made.

Photographers who currently supply the three Herald titles are asked to contact the other Herald freelances for email updates on how the dispute is progressing. Contact, and we will pass your details on.