by Don Genova
Deep-fried soft-shell crab, freshly fried pork dumplings, skewers of chicken drenched in fiery hot sauce. All served within a cacophony of street food vendors shouting out their offerings in a trendy shopping district of Seoul, South Korea.
As I crunched down on my crisp crab, I considered where I had been just hours before: near the top floor of the ultra-modern design of Seoul City Hall, where my Canadian Media Guild colleague Lise Lareau and I had been asked to speak at an international forum organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Government on transforming cities for decent work.
Our work with freelancers and factual TV workers had garnered some attention, and our presentations at the conference in early December were designed to share our efforts in making work ‘decent’ and less precarious for the media workers we represent.
I was part of a panel of speakers who hailed from such diverse locations as Vienna, Austria, Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Tauranga, New Zealand. Each had a story to tell about how their cities have implemented policies aimed at creating fair workplaces.
It was a little eye-opening to hear the representative from Vienna talk about Austria’s labour standards, which include compulsory social insurance for all workers, free public health care and decent pensions. Not to mention five weeks paid leave, a 40-hour maximum work week, and paid sick leave.
This is all within the context of a social partnership where employers and employees use sectoral bargaining to reach collective agreements on minimum wages and other labour issues.
But all of that is geared toward employees, and I represent freelancers. That’s why I was pleased to meet one of the other people on my panel, Lorelei Salas. She is the Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs in New York City.
One of her responsibilities is enforcing the Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA), enacted in New York City in May of 2017 at the urging of the Freelancers Union. Before FIFA, if freelancers weren’t getting paid by the people who hired them, one of their only recourses would be to take their engager to court, which was often costly and time-consuming.
FIFA ensures every freelancer in the city is entitled to a written contract for work valued at $800 or more and gives the freelancer a number of rights:
- timely payment on or before the date stated in the contract
- the right to file a complaint with New York’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS)
- the right to file a lawsuit in court seeking damages for non-payment, retaliation, and an award of attorneys’ fees.
What’s more, the OLPS offers court navigation services to freelancers. The navigators are non-attorneys trained to help freelancers through the court system.
I had heard about the Freelance Isn’t Free Act when it came into being and wondered about how it would actually work and be enforced. Salinas told me that the process has been successful, but mostly within a particular demographic.
Complaints mainly come from highly educated, young, and white freelancers, but she knows there are many freelancers from other demographics in the city so her department is planning an outreach campaign aimed at communities and professions they’re not currently hearing from.
Non-payment is definitely one of the more frequent issues I hear about from freelancers in Canada.
One of the advocacy groups that CMG Freelance supports is the Urban Worker Project. It is currently circulating a petition that states: “We’re calling on government to broaden who is covered under employment standards legislation so that solo self-employed, freelance and contract workers can access better pay, benefits and protections.”
It’s not unimaginable to consider a Freelance Isn’t Free Act for some of Canada’s larger cities, so please support the UWP petition, and don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out what supports we can offer freelancers on a more personal level.
And you can click on this link for a look at the complete program from the Decent Work City conference.
Don Genova is the president of the Canadian Media Guild’s Freelance Branch.
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