As heavily unionised media companies such as Fairfax Media shed employees en masse, the journalists’ union is pushing to establish Australia’s first ever collective agreements for online media outlets.

Last week, representatives from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, including Victorian secretary Louise Connor, met with employees from Private Media (which publishes seven websites including CrikeySmartCompany and Property Observer) to discuss its plans.

If a collective agreement is struck, the union plans to use it as a template for other online outlets such as The Global MailThe Conversation and Alan Kohler’s Spectator group.

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“We seek to offer support to journalists wherever they’re working — whether for radio, print, television, online,” Paul Murphy, the head of the MEAA’s media division, told Crikey. “We’re keen to see the conditions of work that have been won over decades of collective action and bargaining continue to apply as much as possible to all journalists.”

Murphy added: “We are keen to work in a collaborative fashion with employers. We want to see their business thrive and multiply. We’re keen to see them succeed.”

The union believes collective agreements are likely to lead to better pay and conditions, clearer career progressions and more training opportunities for online reporters. Following years of resistance, Fairfax agreed that online reporters — except those working on Queensland, WA or New Zealand sites — could be included in that company’s 2011 collective agreement.

In a departure from past practice, the MEAA hopes to include all online media employees — including sales, administration and IT staff — in online collective agreements. Traditionally, other unions such as the Australian Services Union and Australian Manufacturing Union have negotiated pay and conditions on behalf of non-editorial employees.

Over recent years, jobs for journalists have been shifting away from traditional “big media” companies to niche outlets that tend to have lower levels of union membership.

According to research by University of Queensland academic John Cokley, about 57% of Australian journalists work in companies employing fewer than 10 people, compared with 34% in major media outlets. 

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Peter Fray
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