Pearle* Conversations: Niek Verlinden from oKo on Juist is Juist
Pearle* Conversations
The Pearle* Conversations are an opportunity to put our members in the spotlight and let them tell us more about their projects and activities and the topics that are at the heart of their daily work.

For our second episode of the year, we had the pleasure to talk with Niek Verlinden who is in charge of Employment, good practices and management support at Overleg Kunstenorganisaties (oKo), the Belgian employers association for Flanders and Dutch-speaking arts organisations in Brussels.

In 2020, oKo, alongside many partners launched the Juist is Juist fair practices charter, and developed a web platform to host all the tools and agreements related to the Juist is Juist ("What is fair is fair") initiative. Niek was at the forefront of the entire process, and she told us more about how it was elaborated.

Can you give us an overview of what is Juist is Juist and what are the goals of the initiative?

Juist is Juist wants to make fair practices easily accessible for all, we want to empower people, and we want to facilitate the professionalisation of our sector.

We want to radiate what is right in a positive and self-assured way. We don't think that Juist is Juist is meant to control or punish. We want it to be from the bottom up, we want to do the right thing and of course, we then need enough money to do so.

I think it's important to say that oKo was not the first organisation who thought about fair practices, a lot of people were already talking about this. But at a certain point, we decided to make a real charter of fair practices. Why did we do it? Because we felt that there was a need for it. We are of course an employers’ organisation, so our members are the organisations who are giving the assignments to artists. So, if we can ask them to do the right thing, it can be a big gesture since it comes from the employers’ side.

The excuse not to apply fair practices is that there is not enough money. So, it was also a way for us to create a standard, saying “This is what we think is right, this is what we should pay our artists or other people who are working on stage, or in our organisations”. To make it feasible in practice, we also raised to issue of the budget to the government. The visual arts for example don’t always have enough funding to apply these fair principles. We used the momentum of the new application for subsidies in 2020 to set the standards and ask for the budget to be adapted accordingly.

We made the charter with working groups within oKo, but we also organised focus groups with freelancers and artists. We really wanted to have a neutral platform, not for the employers, not for the artists, but for both. That way they get the same information, and they know what they can ask from each other, what is legal, etc.

At a certain moment, the government also added the principles of our fair practices Juist is Juist in the Arts decree as one of the criteria for funding. So now, when you apply for subsidies, you have to show that you have developed a policy of fair practice in your organisation.

The charter was the first step, what else was done as part of the Juist is Juist initiative?

We made a platform where you can find the principles of Juist is Juist. In our sector, you sometimes have an overload of information you sometimes don't know what is correct. We wanted to have a place where all of the was gathered for the artists but also the employers and the government so that everyone could use the same framework as a basis. And we also wanted to make a brand: what is right is not always about fees or wages, it is also about agreeing on certain terms, speaking the same language, and talking everything through.

On the platform, you can also find 12 Agreements – in most cases, these agreements are simply a translation or specification of the law. For example, Intellectual Property doesn’t replace a fee, it’s always an extra – this is simply the law.  Some agreements are about payment, collective agreements, or dialogue – which is just saying that we are aware that you are sometimes in a different position of power. Commitment is another one, and it’s about committing to each other and making a contract as soon as possible.

We made this set of agreements together with the sector: through working groups, focus groups and at every general assembly we asked our members if it was feasible, what needed to be changed and so on. We also talked with the Muziekgilde, the Acteursgilde, NICC, SOTA, the unions, etc.

It was a very long process of negotiation of 8 months and the whole initiative, from the first idea until the launch took about 2 years. But we had to do it like that because we didn’t want it to be something imposed by oKo. Juist is Juist is not oKo: we eventually made it happen thanks to subsidies, but it involved many organisations and partners.

What we then eventually did is that we created practical tools to implement the principles and the agreements. You have checklists, you have calculators and model documents – it’s very practical. Some of the tools are general like the one for volunteer work or residency is the same for all sub-sectors while some are specific such as the calculator for the visual arts.

oKo started Juist is Juist but it was supported by freelancers, partners, etc. And when we launched the campaign, every organisation involved did it at the same time, so that it would come for them directly, and not from oKo. We also talked about it wherever we were asked: at the theatre festival, to universities to make the bridge to the people who will eventually become part of our sector.

We thought it was better to send a positive signal and create awareness that if we want people to care about the arts sector, we also have to set high standards ourselves.

Looking ahead, can you tell us a bit about upcoming developments of Juist is Juist? How will the initiative keep growing?

We recently made a new negotiation for Juist is Juist, an agreement (not a collective agreement!) where self-employed people and employees should all get the same: the minimum wages must follow the collective agreements. But then there are always negotiations on how to go from a gross wage to a fee. And there we negotiated a new multiplicator and made a calculator to simplify the conversation.

The artists' status also completely changed in Belgium, so we had to update the website with the current information.

Right now, there is also a discussion in one of our working groups about what is a co-production. Is it about giving money? The use of a venue? How do we get a mutual understanding of a co-production so that everyone knows what to expect from the other?

In Belgium, there is also increased talk about the “flexi-jobs” and at some point, we will have to make sure that there is no misuse of that status in our sector. I can imagine that this will be one of the next Agreements we will have to include on the website of Juist is Juist

A long time ago, there was also the idea of including fair practices related to transgressional behaviour under the umbrella of Juist is Juist. Then we would have a set of fair practices charters that show how we want to work in Flanders and Dutch-speaking organisations in Brussels. That policy framework and toolbox on transgressional behaviour already exists, but for now, it’s not under Juist is Juist.

You constantly have to expand the scope and make updates. Legislation is changing, the practices are changing so you have to adapt to the current state of things. I also think it’s important to keep explaining why things are the way they are in our sector and to make sure that everyone is using the same set of values. That way when people apply for a subsidy, they can get differentiated on the content of the project and not on other factors; it puts everyone on the same level regarding fair practices.


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