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  • Writer's pictureJamie McCarthy

With Best Wishes ...Your Freelance Colleague.

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

12th October 2017.

Dear and most cherished friends and co-workers in employed positions in the arts and education, I’m writing this to ask for some solidarity for your colleagues who work as freelancers in the same field. Please read this and think about what you can do within your place of employment to stand with some of the workers your organisation and your job rely on. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone and life isn’t always easy when you’re employed either, but this is a plea for solidarity from a freelance arts and education worker. We all know times are tough financially in both these fields of work and they’re constantly getting tougher. Hopefully too, we all realise how lucky we are in these days actually to have work - a lot of people don’t.

I’m asking you to reflect a bit on how freelancers subsidise your employed positions. When an organisation is in financial tight straits, do your weekly or monthly wages get stopped? Do you find that for a month or so you have absolutely no money coming in? I’m guessing the answer to that is no. Sadly, that’s exactly what happens to freelance workers when the organisations you work for hit financial hard times or suffer from financial mismanagement. In a pretty direct way, the buildings you work in get maintained and your regular wages get paid at the cost of our wellbeing and yet, if we didn’t do the work we did, your organisations and regularly paid jobs would disappear.

Perhaps it’s been a while since you survived as a freelancer and you’ve thankfully let the worst memories of not being paid when you’re working as a freelancer slip to the back of your mind or maybe you’ve always worked in employed positions and just don’t know what it’s like. This is what happens when you don’t get paid for the work you do at the time it’s expected. First of all you go into anxiety. You probably have to spend a lot of time trying to work out what can get put off being paid or how money can be shifted around at different times so you don’t go over your overdraft and get charged a lot for payments being refused. You might, if you're lucky, be able to borrow some money from partners, friends or family to stave off some of the worst effects of not being paid – but not everyone has such access to money or people to rely on. Maybe you have to work at getting away with not being able to pay your rent for a month and live in fear of being evicted.

You also spend a lot of time and energy following up the payments that haven’t been made. You spend a lot of emotional energy either being angry or trying not get too angry – wondering about how you come across and not wanting to offend when your emails are ignored or just not responded to. Your nearest and dearest of course, also suffer as a result of all these things. You spend time and energy too, having to think very carefully about what food you can afford to eat. All this on top of the demands of the actual freelance work you do. Long term this can result in both emotional and physical exhaustion and mental health problems, which, in the precarious world of freelance work don’t help in getting more jobs in – it’s a vicious circle.

Funnily enough, a lot gets said in arts and education institutions about privilege, often using some very meaningful theoretical words about all that stuff. Hey – guess what: here’s a really practical example of how you can try and work against some of the effects of privilege in the very place where you work! It’s not just that being employed and getting paid regularly puts you in a better position than a lot of freelancers (and I’m saying there aren’t also some benefits of not working in a regularly paid position – I’ve done ‘having a job’ and can be nightmare in lots of ways), it’s also that when you take a look around at who else is employed in your organisation there are other factors at work that are to do with privilege. How many of your employed colleagues are working class? How many Black or ethnic minority? How many are disabled? Non-cis-gendered? There are often women in some areas of the arts and education, but how many of them are in the best-paid positions? I’m not saying it’s the fault of individual workers, but you know, it might be that there are issues of privilege at play in who ends up being employed and who ends up being a freelancer. (There will also be issues of privilege at play in who gets the better paid employed positions and who gets the ones with rubbish wages).

So … all I’m saying is have a think about who supports your employed position and without whom you wouldn’t have a job or get your wages paid into your bank account regularly. (Those emotional, financial and health costs that we as freelancers incur and endure when we don’t get paid, actually DO subsidise your regular wage). We’re all standing in support of you! It would be great if whenever you get a chance to stand up for us you did it. Y’know, really practical things, like questioning when other workers don’t get paid when they should or don’t get paid for stuff they do that’s seen as ‘extra’ but without which the work would never get done. Keeping a special eye out for when people aren’t getting paid and doing whatever you can to support them (even if it’s just a few words of support) in getting that money through. Maybe passing this letter on to some relevant people …

Austerity and this current government seek to divide us – don’t let them. Let’s support each other when we can.

With best wishes,

Your Freelance Colleague.

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