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Independents’ Day

Posted by Kate

27 Feb 2013 — No Comments

Posted in Blog

European Forum of Independent Professionals

European Forum of Independent Professionals at Supermarkt, Berlin. Photo: Michelle O’Brien

Last week I headed over to Supermarkt for the European Forum of Independent Professionals event. The point of the event was to introduce the European Forum of Independent Professionals to freelancers working in Berlin and discuss freelancers’ rights and ways in which we could collaborate. After recently registering as “selbständig” and with upcoming international projects on the horizon I was interested in finding out what kinds of services such a forum could offer, as well as meet other freelancers in the local area.

So what exactly is the European Forum of Independent Professionals or EFIP? The EFIP is a non-for-profit body made up of representatives from various different organisations around Europe who represent and support freelancers in their own countries, for example the VGSD in Germany, PCG in the UK, PZO in The Netherlands, and their equivalents in FranceBelgium  and Italy. Founded in 2010, they aim to “deliver flexible knowledge based services to their clients” (a.k.a. independent professionals). They work with government and policy makers to increase the visibility of the independent worker, highlight their value, increase resources available to them, foster dialogue and help change policy to address their needs. Perhaps those of us in the art sector who have been working freelance for some time and are already represented by an artists’ union or a professional association would think this kind of work is really just paying lip service and doubling up on work already being carried out by sector specific bodies.

However, as was demonstrated by the speakers present, issues affecting freelancers aren’t just restricted to individual countries. While each country has its own set of issues affecting freelancers, the EFIP believe many of those issues and their subsequent solutions can, and should be shared. Furthermore, larger global problems such as the recent economic crisis has resulted in once standard practices (such as lifelong contracts awarded upon highschool graduation) having become a rarity. With the increase of short-term, temporary and part time contracts, issues affecting freelancers and independent professionals are important now more than ever, not just to those of us working in the arts. Research conducted by EFIP such as the Rapelli Report illustrates some incredibly interesting statistics on the quantity of independent professionals working across a range of sectors within the EU. Independent working has increased by 82% from 2000-2011 with numbers of independent professionals reaching 8.6million in 2011. While EFIP admitted that these statistics are somewhat tricky – how does one actually map independent professionals if they don’t know how to find or define them? – they highlight the increasing trend of independent working that has started to replace long-term, stable employment.

But what seems to have developed as a result of this increase in independent working is that governments and their respective employment policies have been left way behind. Any freelancer working in the cultural sector knows the reality of working independently:  a lack of adequate pension cover or insurance, being met with blank stares or even hostility when seeking advice from the local tax office, and the all-time favourite of creative work not being considered “real labour”. So a definite highlight of the event at Supermarkt was the insight each of the speakers gave to the various issues affecting independent professionals within their own countries and thus highlighting the commonalities between us. In France for example, the role of the freelancer is not even recognised by government or taken seriously as something that should be on the agenda of employment policy. However, in the Netherlands, even despite massive funding cuts in recent years, freelancers are supported and their role is recognised as a legitimate form of labour. Here in Germany, recent issues concerning independents have seen more and more media attention and some campaigns against excessive compulsory payments have been successful (such as a mandatory pension scheme for the self-employed) while upcoming challenges (such as health insurance and TV tax) are on the agenda. It was of no surprise to me to hear that in Ireland, vast numbers of independent professionals are leaving due to the economic instability (and although it wasn’t said, I would also suspect the isolation of working conditions) of the country which has resulted in much confusion for individuals regarding their tax and a highly unfair and over competitive culture regarding the payment of fees. In the UK the main issues were often legal issues such as “false or disguised self-employment” (where independents are accused of not “genuinely” working as self-employed to gain certain benefits such as paying less tax).

There was a concensus, not just among the EFIP but also from the audience, that the main problem shared by all countries in terms of meeting the needs of independent professionals was more an acknowledgement that today’s independent professional or freelancer is a precarious one. Today’s employee works more often from home than from the office. They work internationally across borders. They work on projects rather than on “a career”. And in the golden age of the social network where one is expected to be “online” all the time, they are ALWAYS working. And where many Western countries battle their way through recessions and austerity measures, workers are becoming incredibly resourceful, often shifting their practice from making an income from material goods to providing immaterial services. So how do you meet the needs of various different freelancers if those needs are constantly changing and vary from country to country? This was summed up very concisely by Supermarkt’s Ela Kagel who said “We need to work with the shifting role of labour.” EFIP said they hope to focus on the commonalities between countries rather than their differences, but that freelancers must also not fall into the trap of “self neglect” – we need to share knowledge with one another and we need to collaborate rather than compete.

EFIP’s upcoming research will adopt a qualitative approach to find out exactly what issues affect independent professionals across the EU and are looking for help from freelancers who can contribute to this body of knowledge. They are also interested in finding out more about the representation of independent professionals in Nordic countries and from EU Member States, so if you think you can contribute, get in touch

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