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Your working rights as an editor

Your working rights as an editor

A summary of my presentation at the 2019 IpEd Conference in Melbourne

At the Institute of Professional Editors’ Conferences there are often multiple streams of sessions and you always miss out on something. 

Samya Ibrahim of DjedPress was quite kind to film my ten minute top speed spin through working rights for editors but it will be some time before we have the video. 

In the meantime, here is a quick summary of what I spoke about for your information.

In Australia, the rights you have as an editor, vary depending on whether you are a freelancer or an employee working in-house.

Working in-house as an editor:

  1. You have the right to be paid for any and all over time under the Book Industry Award.

    It should be 1.5 times the usual hourly rate of what your salary for the level/grade you work at is, for the first eight hours of overtime. After the first eight hours of overtime, you should get double the rate.

    If you don’t get overtime pay, you should get TOIL or time off in lieu. 

    If you don’t get either, that’s a huge problem. That’s called wage theft.

    This is one of the biggest issues in the publishing industry right now affecting editors.

  2. No one has the right to tell you that you cannot unionise or talk to union members or discriminate against you on that basis.
  3. No one should discriminate against you or harrass or bully you in anyway. If you report this to a union delegate or staff member, they have a responsibility to report it to the relevant authorities.

    The Fair Work Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission both deal with these issues and there is a document you can read here: 

  4. You have the right to be paid super by your employer as a full time or part time employee at 9.5% at least.
  5. You have the right to collectively bargain.

    To do so, you only need a majority of the people in your workplace to be an union member and requesting it. This does not have to be a huge number, think of it as a percentage. The moment you have more than 50% of your workplace and ask to bargain, employers have to comply under the Fair Work Act as the Fair Work Commission will compel to engage in negotiations. 

  6. You have the right to negotiate for various things: grading progressions, pay rises, all sorts of things.
  7. You have the right to be informed of any meetings regarding your performance in advance and to have a support person there with you at said meetings.
  8. You have a right to a clear job description for your role and the outcomes you are supposed to achieve.

Working freelance as an editor:

  1. The Fair Work Act doesn’t allow collective bargaining on behalf of groups of freelancers but there are other solutions to negotiate better terms and conditions.
  2. In some cases, if you earn more than $450 in one month from a client, you may be able to get super contributions from that client. You will need to contact the ATO to discuss whether the work you did or the services you provide match one of their tests for this but it is always worth chasing up.
  3. Even if you are working at home, you have the right to a safe space and to be not discriminated against, harrassed or bullied in your workplace.
  4. You have the right to set your own rates and your own working hours.

    This is useful in two ways: 

    1) If a group of editors collectively agrees to adhere to a minimum rate, it is legal to do so as the Fair Work Act does not restrict people from forming their own in group agreements on such things. 

    2) Clients cannot bully or intimidate you into backing down on your rates. 

  5. You have the right to insist on a contract with any client and to negotiate the terms within it.

    Please also be aware that emails and texts can count as legal agreements (emails more so than texts). 

  6. You have the right to be paid in full on time by the due date listed on your invoices if you have your ABN on the invoice.

    You have the right to charge late fees. You have the right to chase up late payments. You have the right to go through the process outlined by Fair Work to send letters of demand etc to get the money owed to you.

What can I do if I work in-house?

No one has to join the union. That isn’t the point of this information. 

The point is to be informed of your rights. It’s your responsibility to be aware of the rights you have and to make sure you defend them. 

So here are some things you can do to help defend them or to help change things so you can defend them.

  1. IF you want to go down the collective bargaining route as Penguin Random House employees have done, to get back overtime pay and so on, you need to join the union and get a majority of your co-workers to join as well. 

    You do not at any point need to disclose to anyone that you are a member of the union if you do not wish to.

  2. You can inform the Fair Work Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the union or other relevant authorities if you feel that at any time your employer is not complying with the law or the terms of your award, in this case, the Book Industry Award.

  3. If you become an union member, you can run for union elections to sit on national committees and help inform strategy and planning and you can organise to create other committees and groups to work on various issues. The National Freelancer Committee came out of the organising of the freelance members before it was made official.

  4. You can attend events and rallies, sign petitions, support campaigns but also just go out and do the things that make your industry better and safer with the support of the union behind you. 

  5. Let union staff know about statistics and data such as salaries and pay rises. Data can be useful because it helps build evidence for cases when asking for changes in legislation and lobbying people. 

What can I do if I work as a freelancer?

Again, you don’t have to join an union. There is a lot you can do as a member, there is a lot you can do in support of all these issues as a non-member as well. 

In case you do wish to join, you can join the MEAA Media Section (NOT Freelance Pro) as a freelance editor for just under $16 per month if you earn under $6000 per year. 

  1. You can join working groups in all sorts of organisations on all sorts of issues – IPEd has started a Pay Rates Working Group for example.

  2. If you are dealing with late payments, you can go through the process or get help from MEAA as a member – people pay up pretty fast when they see the MEAA letterhead on the letter of demand.

  3. As a MEAA member, you can join the National Freelance Committee. We need more editors on it for proper representation as we create a freelance strategy and plan for all freelancers that we cover. We all face the same issues for a lot of the same reasons.

  4. As a MEAA member, you can run in the elections every two years to sit on national committees to have your say and move things forward.

  5. Whether you are a member or not, attend rallies and events where you can, sign petitions, support campaigns. As a freelancer, you often have the flexibility to attend rallies without potentially being penalised by an employer for doing so as some in-house people might be – that is a freedom well worth making use of.

  6. You can still report anything criminal, any harrassment or bullying or discrimination. If you report it to the union, they will keep a list. 

  7. Submit rates and contracts to the union whether you are a member or not so that we can collect data and see what the issues are, especially with contracts. We have a rates database on the website that is publicly accessible for anyone.

Contact people:

MEAA Media Section organiser for in-house and freelance editors: 

Mardi O’Connor, 
1300 656 513
0411 478 830                                                                                    [email protected]

MEAA Victorian Media Section President, Delegate representing editors on National Freelance Committee:

Marisa Wikramanayake                                                             
[email protected]

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