COVID-19 : The Attack On Freelancers

by Ayo Tunde
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I did not have it all easy growing up in the world of business. Sometimes, small measures of success can becloud the trying times in between.


At some stage in my life, I was working…a full-time job like every educated youngster was supposed to be doing. But of course there was my resolve to stay in football, so even while I was working as an Estate Surveyor and Project Manager, I was also doing freelance work as a journalist, reporting on football.


Then one day I got this fairly big contract to go do some work out in Africa. It meant I would have to be away for up to 6 weeks, yet I only had, officially, 4 weeks’ holiday at my place of work.


My boss at the time was a football freak, and an ardent Manchester United fan (I had to grimace and wince but successfully got him signed pics and autographs from David Beckham and Peter Schmeichel – oh God, I, a Chelsea diehard, in pictures with Manchester United players, all because I wanted to please my boss!!!) was very accommodating to the idea of me taking a leave of absence and going to live my dream. But my colleagues were not; and this was understandable.


So I made the decision to quit the job. “You are mad” was what my boss said to me the next morning when I gave him my resignation letter. “Am I complaining?” And he really did not. But my mind was made up. I told him I was leaving.


I remember him telling me at the leaving party the company organized for me,  “It is a tough world out there and you might regret it, so I will keep your place for you so that anytime you decide the freelance life is too difficult, you can come straight back to your job”. Quite magnanimous of him, and I remain grateful to him till this day.


But that was in December 1999. I left, and I never looked back.


But it was not all plain-sailing. There were many challenges along the way. It is not easy being a freelancer.


Having to come up with ideas that producers will like, storylines that sports programmes will gladly pay for, then the travel, the risk and returning hoping and praying that it will be good enough for your stories to be paid for. Stressful times that required perseverance.


But I look at the world we live in today, in this period, and I now think I was superbly blessed in my time, compared to how things are today. I can not even start to talk about complaining about hard times when weighed up against what the self-employed and freelancers are passing through at this time.


The global lockdown is having a huge impact on everyday life.


Governments worldwide have introduced various measures to help their citizens. America is pumping $2.2 trillion into the fight against COVID-19 – stimulus for its population that will be affected by this. It sounds like each household will get around $1,200 to tide them over.


In the UK, £330 billion has been talked about, where salaries of everyone working will be met by government. Then there was a stimulus for the self-employed who will be out of pocket from all this.


Spain, France, Germany and other countries also announced big deals.


But the more answers that are being supplied by governments, the more questions arise. And it is understandable – not everybody will be covered by these measures.


And this is why I say I feel for the freelancers. Because, from what I know of my field, a lot of guys who were in the position I was in 20-22 years ago, will be struggling.


There is no football anywhere. So programmes are all gone from our TV screens. Imagine 33 cameras in each of 10 English Premier League grounds each week, maybe a few less but still a fair number in each of the lower leagues, all operated by cameramen, the engineering crew attached to each broadcast, the story writers, producers, the endless list, and that is talking England alone. Then same in France, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, all the way in Australia and all the countries. The media crew responsible for every game in every country can not all be fully employed. There are many freelancers everywhere. There were the unattached ones, there are those who make a living from the programmes around the games – the preview and review shows, the in-game shows.

It is endless. And many….a whole lot….do not fall into the category of who the governments will send a cheque to. Many are in countries where the governments are not even sending cheques to anyone.


It is a tough time to be self-employed. It is a tough time to be a freelancer.


It is the one time you can not look at a prospective client and blame him for not liking your idea or your work. You can’t claim discrimination, favouritism or lack of objectivity. There is basically no work – zero. And even your commissioning editor and executive producer is scratching his own head wondering if he will have a job to come to when this is over – so yours is a secondary problem as far as he is concerned. Not easy at all.


So what do you do at a time like this? It is hard. But you have to stay strong and positive. You have to accept that this crisis is a global one. You are not alone. This problem is everywhere.


And it will only be the fittest that will come out of it.


It will not go on forever. In whatever industry that you work in, things will normalize. Football will be back, and the demand for entertainment will be as much, if not more than, before the break.


Mentally we have to be strong. To allow ourselves accept that this is a situation no one can do much about. And to remain mentally positive that it will pass.


This is the time to look out for one another. In my time, I had a couple of disturbing relationships where envy was involved. Where freelancers will go to the producer and try to undercut my work and what I can do or have done. They call it rivalry. I say it was just meanness (but I got over it, and….here I am),


But at this time, freelancers should pull together, and encourage each other and give each other hope. To tell one another what they can each do to keep going in this difficult period.


This is the time to take stock and improve on areas where you might be found inadequate professionally.


This is the time to keep in contact with people, brush up on your contacts and engage potential clientele so that you are still in the groove when things pick up again.


It is important to look out for each other, and to come out of this stronger and more united.


It is not the time to bear grudges or engage negative sentiment. It is the time to work together collectively so that the world we live in will be a better place for all.


As we can see, this virus has defied everything – it has attacked everyone regardless of race, religion, gender or wealth status. At the end of the day, it has come to show that it can shut anyone down.


It is who comes out of it with a positive mental mind that will be declared victorious. The change that it makes to each person’s perception of life – of wealth, of the unending desire to live big and most of all, to the important things of life – is what is most important.


There are a few Freelancers Collective initiatives out there. If you read this and want to contribute, there are many out there. I have done my bit. If you are in position where you can as well, please do.

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