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Freelance survey: better incomes, majority satisfied with work

Freelance incomes have risen over the last two years by about €2 100. Most freelancers are satisfied with their level of mental and material wellbeing and find that for them freelancing is the most suitable form of employment.

Such were the findings of the latest labour market survey by the UJF on the situation of its freelance members. The union runs the survey every two years.

Sixty per cent of respondents do freelance journalism. 13 per cent are photographers. The remainder mainly comprises translators, graphic designers, communications entrepreneurs, and software engineers.

Women accounted for 66 per cent of respondents. The average age of respondents was 46. On average journalist respondents had 13 years of experience as freelancers.

Increase in average earnings

Gross freelance billing amounted to €35 700 for 2018. Average taxable income was 26 300.

In both cases, the median was slightly below the average. The median of overall invoicing stood at €33 000, and median taxable income at 24 300 euro.

Freelancers’ average annual total billing has increased by €2,500 in two years and taxable income by €2,100.

The average earnings of those living in the greater Helsinki area were the largest, €27 800. Respondents living in provincial centres declared earnings of €27 400, while for those living in other areas the sum was €22 700.

Gross billing increases with the shift to as we move into the corporate mode. Gross billing by those within a “limited liability company” group stood on average at €44 800. Those working in the sole trader category reported that invoicing for last year was on average €33 700. The billing of those working using the tax card was €29 400.

Taxable income also differed according to the form of occupation, whether in a company, as a sole trader, or using a freelance tax card. For those working in a limited liability company taxable income was €29 200, for sole traders €27 900, and for tax card holders €23 100.

The taxable income freelancers working for the press was €25 600 in 2018, slightly lower than the average for the whole cohort (€26 300). The taxable income for radio and TV freelancers was higher than that of press freelancers, €30 700.

Taxable income declared by photographers exceeded the average, being on average €28 500. Taxable income for translators was on average €32 000.

The more clients freelancers have the greater their gross billing had increased for the period in review. Having just one client brought in on average €25 900, while having more than 10 yielded on average €43 300.

Most work in journalism

On average, 57 per cent of respondents’ income came from journalistic work. Information and communications work accounted for four per cent, and marketing communications for 11 per cent. Education and training within the sector (2 per cent), other communications work (6 per cent) and other work in the sector(13 per cent) accounted for a fifth of the taxable income. Other income amounted to only seven percent.

Working hours

In 2018, freelancers worked on average for 34 hours a week. The amount was 32 hours in the last three surveys. Men reported working on average 36 hours a week, women on average three hours less. The working ours of respondents 55 and older were the longest, 36 hours a week.

Most conspicuous were those who had worked for between three — five years as freelancers and in limited liability companies. The weekly working hours of the former was on average 40 hours, the latter 41 hours.

The average annual leave for freelancers in 2018 was exactly five weeks. The longest uninterrupted holiday period was 2,8 weeks.

Fees and commissions unchanged

Respondents were asked to estimate the number of commission assignments for the first half of 2019 and the fees paid for them at the same time the year before.

A total of 46 per cent stated that the number of commissions had remained unchanged. Twenty-four per cent have had more commissions than earlier, while 25 per cent stated that the number had decreased over the previous year.

The amount of pay has remained largely unchanged. A total of 69 per cent said that the situation was roughly the same as earlier.

For 8 per cent of respondents commission payments have increased, while for 13 per cent they have decreased. Twelve per cent of respondents said that the situation in this respect varies.

Mental satisfaction, material well-being, work continuity

The majority of freelancers said they were at least fairly satisfied with their work and living conditions.

In particular, many (73 per cent) are content with their mental well-being.

There was somewhat less, though still substantial, satisfaction with material well-being (59%) and continuity of work (58%).

Opinions about mental well-being remain the same. Three quarters of those surveyed have long been at least fairly satisfied with it.

Satisfaction with material well-being and the continuity of work declined significantly from the peak in 2006, according to the surveys. The situation has shown signs of improvement in the last two surveys.

Scope for negotiating contracts and agreements

Almost 40 per cent of respondents have little or no chance of negotiating the terms of their commissions. A total of 38 per cent stated that their contract was based on the clients’ terms and were not flexible.

For 51 of respondents, contracts are based on the terms and conditions set by the client, but it is possible to negotiate on a case-by-case or per gig.

About one in ten (9 per cent) of freelance journalists are able to draw up their own terms and conditions.

The majority of those surveyed, 71%, said they would continue to work as freelancers. Less than a fifth (18%) are interested in getting an employment relationship. The percentages are almost the same as two years ago.

Hardly any of the respondents said they would like to get out of journalism. Only 5 per cent wish they were employed in another sector.

Thumbs up for UJF

A total of 60 per cent of respondents gave the UJF at least a fairly good rating for promoting the interests of their freelance members. Satisfaction with the union was as high as two years ago, when the levels of satisfaction with the UJF increased for the first time in the 2010s.

The least satisfaction was registered  in 2002. At that time, only 23% found that the work done by the union was good. There are currently over two and a half times more satisfied freelancer members than at that time.