Digital news outlets are undercutting the legacy media on pay and conditions, able to get away with paying their journalists far less because no industry award exists that covers journalists who work for online-only outlets.

This means in the absence of an enterprise bargaining agreement, which are as rare as hens’ teeth in digital media, journalists filing for online-only outlets are covered only by the National Employment Standards — a minimum set of conditions that apply to all Australian workers. Meanwhile, outlets with traditional broadcast networks or papers attached operate under the broadcast and print media awards respectively (these awards also cover their digital teams but only by dint of the attached legacy outlet).

The Journalists’ Published Media Award, last reviewed in 2010, has a clause explicitly excluding online journalists from its conditions relating to hours of work, including penalty rates. Journalists union the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has made an application to the Fair Work Commission asking that the award be reviewed to include online journalists. The union views this as a key priority given the growth in digital employment for its members.

The Fair Work Commission is expected to hear a case on the matter later this year. In a bid to paint a clearer picture of the conditions of digital workers, MEAA has been surveying its membership who work in online news outlets about their pay and conditions. Of the 150 respondents, only 30% said they feel adequately compensated for their work. The majority (55%) reported no extra pay for working early mornings, evenings or weekends, and for one in five, even public holidays did not accrue any additional compensation. And in comments to the survey, many journalists suggested they are considering leaving the industry altogether because of the poor pay.

“I have dipped in and out of the industry for this reason, and had to take on part-time work in another industry just to make ends meet,” said one respondent. “When you see people in communications roles working less and earning more, it’s very tempting to jump ship and move into that field,” said another.

MEAA director of media Katelin McInerney said the union was determined to bring digital journalists up to the conditions enjoyed by their colleagues in traditional media, especially given the entry of many new digital players in the Australian media market.

“Just because you work for a digital outlet rather than one that still publishes in ink on paper does not mean you should miss out on basic conditions like shift allowances, overtime pay or public holiday loadings,” she told Crikey. “There have been numerous new start-ups in this field since the print journalists Award was last updated, and the Award does not recognise the different working patterns of digital journalists in the 24-7 news cycle.

MEAA’s survey is still open and seeking submissions from digital journos.

Peter Fray

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