News / 23.03.2010

Finnish journalists toil overtime without pay.

One is already familiar with the work pace in a local newspaper: the same journalist writes, takes photos and designs the paper.

“One doesn’t have to think of what to do next, rather it is more to decide what task to tackle next in order to reduce the pile”, says Heikki Syrjälä a journalist with 20 experience behind him, and now chief shop steward representing 40 journalists in 16 local newspapers here.

“A senior journalist wondered whether he had become slower since he is unable to get all work done within the working day. It turned out that he was continuously doing the work of two journalists and more work piled up as soon one was completed”.

Similar complaints were voiced by chief shop stewards who participated in a survey of overtime work conducted by Journalisti magazine in January this year.

“The employer says the story should be ready in 15 minutes even though a story worth publishing can only be done in two hours. One should be not shouting over time in order that no problem would arise. They have to be taken on the quite so that no one realizes it. In practice it doesn’t succeed”.

“Work has to be done with the staff resources available. There has been downsizing of staff and part of the work is outsourced. Someone is in charge so that work is done as properly as it used be and as the work increases there is no time to do it”.

Journalists working overtime have cause to be concerned because according to a Finnish research, long working days weaken performance of the intellect. Survey conducted in Britain using 2000 people over several years has revealed that in intensive vocabulary and decision-making tests, those who have had lot of overtime work have performed poorly compared with others who have not.

“Each additional hour weakened the results”, says researcher Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Being too busy as such is not risky: if a busy day ends approximately on schedule, a worker can sufficiently recover.

Concerned over overtime, chief shop steward took a tour of media houses in several Finnish cities in three days.

“We sat down with many chief editors and cleared all issues at once so that no one would stick out as an individual journalist”, says Syrjälä.

Only a couple of press houses performed well. In others journalists did an enormous amount of overtime without receiving any money or holiday compensation.

The employer got the message. Over half of journalists in ten newspapers received overtime payment retroactively, a few of them even three years back pay. The biggest compensations were equivalent to several months’ salary.

After that overtime roasters appeared on the walls of the offices.

A survey conducted by Journalisti newspaper revealed that more unpaid overtime is done in those newspapers which have cut back on staff. Many chief shop stewards give accounts of the contradictory situations: work has to be done but it is unpaid.

“There is hidden unperformed overtime all the time which mustn’t be done and yet nevertheless is being done, or has to be done. Everything cannot be accomplished within the working day. The spiral is continuous”.

According to Syjrjälä, busy people are not able to fight for their cause, and to him, it is the biggest sin of journalists because no one is compelled to work overtime.

“The chief editor does not oblige anyone to remain and work overtime rather, it has become established through practice while using little staff resources to assemble material when producing a newspaper”.

“If the employer is not prepared to pay for quality, why do we still do it? This contradiction to me, is the biggest problem in the sector. Who wants to produce a poor newspaper? However, to the publisher it appears sufficient that we produce a marketable product by providing extra sweat for free”.

Translation and editing by Linus Atarah

Original story by Katri Porttinen

See orginal story in Journalisti 3/2010: http://www.journalistiliitto.fi/journalisti/lehti/2010/03/artikkelit/talkootoimittajat/


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