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Irish Executive Committee asks NEC to reject Drogheda Independent agreement

27 July 2007 - EPUK

The NUJ’s Irish Executive Council (IEC) has voted to refer the decision as to whether accept the controversial Drogheda Independent house agreement to the union’s National Executive Committee (NEC), and has made a recommendation that it should be rejected.

The vote, which has previously been deferred twice to allow objections to be heard, was split by the narrowest of margins with eight for and seven against. The vote came just hours after the controversy was first revealed on EPUK.

While the move has been applauded by Irish photographers, it is still very unclear whether the union’s NEC will follow the IEC’s recommendation that the house agreement should not be ratified in its current form.

Both the Irish Eastern Branch, and the Drogheda Chapel branches who met this week had already called on the Irish Executive Council to refer the Drogheda Independent House Agreement to the National Executive Council. EPUK has been told that members of at least two branches unsuccessfully attempted to bring motions of no confidence in Irish secretary Seamus Dooley’s handling of the affair.

But Dooley disputes at least one of these events, telling EPUK: “There was no discussion and no reference to any vote of confidence [at Irish Eastern Branch]”.

“Reporters to stop using cameras” motion

A second motion, which was passed by twelve votes to two requests the NEC to ask any reporters already using cameras to cease doing so, to give full support to any member facing disciplinary action in consequence, and to incorporate opposition to reporters using cameras into the flagship Journalism Matters day on November 5th.

If this motion were carried, it would return the NUJ’s position to that of just a few months ago, when the union’s rulebook stated: “A member who is a staff reporter shall not normally take photographs…Freelance reporters shall not take photographs… if by so doing they deprive another freelance of income”

The second motion is being seen by some union members as a strong rebuke to Dooley who has long argued that the practice of reporters supplying photographs is so widespread that there would be no point in trying to fight it. Earlier this week he likened it to “trying to protect virginity long after it’s been soiled”.

Pictured are NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley and Sinead Sarsfield, Irish Eastern NUJ branch member and Drogheda Independent contract photographer speaking at a Irish Eastern Branch NUJ special meeting held earlier this week to discuss the new Drogheda Independent House Agreement. Photographs : Mick Slevin

“We cannot ignore the reality that change is happening all around us – in all areas of journalism”, Dooley told EPUK before the IEC meeting today. “What is happening in the Drogheda Independent is that the NUJ has negotiated a path, something that has not happened elsewhere.”

“The NUJ did not seek change but were forced to negotiate with an employer who would, if agreement was not reached, impose change by other means. “

House agreement at the Limerick Leader

How we’ve covered the story: Fury as NUJ ‘sells out’ Drogheda photographers for ‘closed shop’ agreement Read here
Sqweegee: “The NUJ’s justification for this particular piece of treachery is as slimy as can be. They describe it as a ‘quid pro quo for major benefits’. The question is: what are the benefits and to whom do they accrue?” Read it here

However, in an open letter circulated to NUJ members this week, IEC member Norma Prendiville described an almost identical set of negotiations which took place at the Limerick Leader, which had a different outcome to the one Dooley warned against.

“In the first round [of negotiations], we were put under pressure to accept that reporters would carry cameras for certain kinds of shots. The arguments used were very similar to those put forward by Independent News and Media”, she wrote.

“We refused. We said it would be a deal-breaker if they tried to persist and we went all the way to mediation and then voted against the proposed agreement. In a second round, with new management, the issue again came up and we again refused arguing that it was against union policy.”

“We got our new house agreement, (which does include all sorts of new technology and new media going into the future), having secured a better rate than that offered to the Drogheda Independent but crucially WITHOUT REPORTERS HAVING TO CONCEDE cameras.”

“That principle embodies a basic union aim of protecting jobs – the jobs of staff reporters, the jobs of staff photographers and the jobs of freelance photographers.”

Good employers or bad ?

Sinead Sarsfield, NUJ member and Drogheda Independent contract photographer since January 2006 told EPUK that she only discovered about the proposal to let reporters take photographs after a chance conversation with a staff member, and immediately phoned Seamus Dooley to voice her concerns.

She says she was told there was nothing she could do about it. “He said that this deal offered by the Drogheda Independent Group was a very good deal for the reporters and that this was the way technology was heading and there was nothing anyone could do to stand in the way of advancement”, she told EPUK.

“I asked if he had advised the chapel to accept it and he replied that yes he had as the Independent group had been very good employers and again it was a great deal for the reporters.”

But in correspondence with EPUK, Dooley admitted that the papers’ own chapel had twice called for a strike ballot in the last two years, and described parent group Independent News and Media as “ an increasingly aggressive commercial organisation with an agenda to slash costs across all titles, regional and national”.

He added that the NUJ had been concerned about the effect this was having on the quality of the titles.

“I felt I should support my fellow journalists”

Sinead Sarsfield told EPUK that she supported both strike ballots: “Despite the fact I knew the issue did not directly affect me I felt I should support my fellow journalists and I voted in both ballots in their support.”

Sarsfield added that when she had first negotiated the Drogheda Independent contract, she phoned the NUJ’s Dublin Office for advice, only to be told that they could not help her negotiate. “I was not given any real help or advice and to be totally honest I really wondered why I was in this union”

Sarsfield estimates that over 90% of her work comes from her Drogheda Independent contract. However, it is alleged that Seamus Dooley told another NUJ member in an email: “As far as I can see there are few photographers who are exclusively reliant on the Drogheda Independent.”

While the NEC’s next full scheduled meeting is the 21st September, it is not yet clear whether the matter could be raised at next week’s Emergency Committee. Unlike the NEC, which has 27 members, the Emergency Committee is a smaller committee which excludes a number of prominent photographer members, and a number of Irish union members told EPUK they were concerned that the matter might be pushed through without proper debate.

Whatever the decision reached by NEC looks set to be seen as a definitive statement of how the union’s management views its 2,300 photographer members.

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