|The world of work is changing and union organisation must similarly develop. The growing use of new technologies and the continued growth in the service sectors has seen more workers employed in less traditional employment relationships.
Many of these workers have been driven into precarious working conditions, where the unbalanced relationship between employee and employer leads to greater exploitation. The union approach for these workers, whether part-time with variable hours, on so-called “if-and-when” contracts, or in bogus self-employment, is quite clear – organise effectively and collectively fight for improvements.
However, economic change is also leading to another growing sector of workers; these are freelancers, who also see benefits as well as drawbacks to maintaining less orthodox relationships with employers. Paid for each job or on very short-term contracts, such freer working arrangements have long been traditional in some sectors, such as the arts and the media but are now becoming widespread in many others, including computing and other technology based jobs.
Unions must show these workers that although they are employed as individuals, it is by collectively working together that they can ensure improvements on an industry-wide scale and the enforcement of minimum protections.
It is only by listening to freelance workers and their direct experiences that unions can effectively accommodate their needs. As part of this crucial process SIPTU, along with Equity, the Musicians Union of Ireland and the National Union of Journalists are organising a major conference in the Mansion House in Dublin on Tuesday, 5th June, for freelance workers. This conference will be the beginning of a process of change in union organisation for these workers in Ireland.