Canary workers uncover and address gross inequalities in our own workplace

Support us and go ad-free

This article is part of a series about the workers’ revolution which led to the Canary becoming the Canary Workers’ Co-op. You can read all the articles in the series here and visit our new, dedicated page here

Up until this summer, the Canary had been run like a corporate capitalist organisation. But from June onwards, as a group of workers, we’ve been running the outlet as a co-operative. We’ve spent the last few months addressing workplace inequalities and overhauling the organisation in order to run it more fairly and efficiently.

To put it mildly, we’ve all been put through the wringer mentally and emotionally. It’s important to us, as a team, to set out the historic inequalities and what we’ve done to address them. Finally, it’s time for the values and ethos of the Canary to match the politics and ideals of the people who work here.

We’re all family here…

Many people will be familiar with how companies claim that “we’re all family here” – and use that to foster a culture of overworking. There’s a version of this which is becoming increasingly common in workplaces which seem progressive. It was only once the directors began leaving the company that it became clear how big the gulf was between directors and workers.

When I joined the Canary a couple of years ago, I was surprised at how open the directors seemed to be. We had the odd team meetings where one director would lay out the finances of the company, discuss profits, and circulate a spreadsheet which showed how much everybody was paid. Sounds positive enough – except that spreadsheet was a lie.

Directors were supposed to be paid £13 an hour, editors £12 an hour, and writers £11 an hour. In theory, fine. In practice, it was a very different story. As the article from Emily Apple and Steve Topple shows, directors were paying themselves significantly more money than anybody else via dividends and director’s loans. On top of this, Canary Media Ltd was paying directors’ full pensions contributions of 8% – while the workers’ only got 3%, having to pay 5% themselves. The pay structure we were told about was even more of a joke than we realised.

Over the years, the three directors’ duties involved the management of administration and finance for the company, speaking engagements, and, occasionally, journalism. What actually happened is that directors often wouldn’t work the days they were supposed to work, and a number of business-critical tasks were completed late, if at all. Directors would let important work fall by the wayside and regularly leave workers in the lurch. There was no mechanism through which the rest of the team could hold them accountable. We were only a family if we’re defining ‘family’ as a dysfunctional, chaotic, toxic nightmare.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Culture of gaslighting

Directors would often give workers vague platitudes about mental health. They would regularly explain their own mental states in great detail to the whole team. Unfortunately, they did not possess the skills of self-awareness and empathy that were necessary for safe mental health disclosures in a hierarchical organisation. Added to this, workers were at times on 65% sick pay, and at others on statutory sick pay, while directors received 100% sick pay. In practice, this meant that when directors needed to take time off for their physical or mental health, they could do so comfortably without losing any money. The rest of us, however, were effectively financially punished for our sickness.

There was a similar pattern for holiday allowances. Directors were able to (and often did) take large chunks of time off without notice or cover. Editors, meanwhile, have had to juggle cover and severely restrict the time we were able to take off. Given that our editorial team is made up of three chronically ill people, this was yet another slap in the face. Editors and writers had a limited amount of holiday allowance. And, because of the lower rate of sick pay, they would often use their annual leave as sick days.

It’s undeniable that there was a clear hierarchy in the old structure of the Canary. Directors would pretend that everything was equal, and that the external values of the company were the same as what was going on behind the scenes. This was absolutely not the case.

So, what did we do about it?


Everyone is now paid £12 an hour, regardless of role. Everybody who works at the Canary has 100% sick pay and equal holiday allowance. We have a system in place for people to take paid mental health leave. All of our contracts reflect this. We’re also in the process of moving away from short-term, piecemeal contracts that force people to work multiple jobs whilst on Universal Credit.

But here’s the thing: these concrete examples of parity don’t begin to make a dent in the culture the former directors created. Everyone would be expected to overwork themselves, and our outwardly-projected socialist politics would work to hide this. Directors often spoke to people in small groups or individually. They would repeatedly claim that if people were truly ‘passionate’ they’d do anything required of them.

Moreover, directors often lied to or concealed business decisions from workers. We were all lied to about the actual state of the finances, and the health of the company. This understandably caused concern about people potentially losing their jobs.

The directors created a culture of gaslighting and toxic, unsafe behaviour. Even during the last few months, when conversations around working conditions were happening openly amongst the team, outgoing directors obstructed this process.

The editorial team have long been forced to do the jobs of the directors, whilst also doing our actual jobs. Several people at the Canary had to put a life-altering amount of work and mental energy into making sure the company didn’t go down the shitter. Naturally, this has caused a huge amount of strain, and the last few months have been draining and chaotic for all of us. We’re not rich or powerful people with connections that will help us fall upwards. We’re not legacy journalists or corporate hacks.

An outlet we can finally be proud of

We’re all committed to doing this work because we believe in each other as a team, and more importantly, because we believe in the work that we do. There is no separation between our workers and our work – we live the realities of the communities we write about.

Nobody who works here is only a journalist. We’re all activists, community organisers, and people with lived experience of the things we report. Now that we’re not constrained by dodgy bosses and toxic directors, we can finally get on with the work we all believe in.

Written by Maryam Jameela

Featured image via Unsplash/John Vicente

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Well done for exposing the capitalist culture of your own workplace and for acting to change it. I’m sure many readers have had similar experiences or are working in even worse environments. The line about being ‘passionate’ as a means to emotionally blackmail workers into unpaid extra work is, I’m sure, familiar.

      One improvement to the site I would like to see is to enable notifications of reader comments so that we don’t have to keep checking back.

      1. See Companies House, Canary Media Limited. I don’t really see what difference it makes though. These matters are structural not individual. However the tone of the piece is incautious, and the departed three may appreciate a right to reply.

        Bio’s of the collective would be welcome though.

    2. Thank you Jameela for your words of honesty, and about how difficult, damaging, and eventually rewarding this process has been for you, and the rest of the team.

      Believe me when I say your real readership appreciates your work IMMENSELY.

      Take the negative trolling comments as a sign that the Establishment and political oposition are threatened enough by you to both craft and write such low brow anti-energy replies.

      There will also, presumably, be less of those ‘strange’ articles written by “staffers”, that directly contradict the Canary’s ethos anymore.

      Onwards and Upwards!

    3. This is a classic case of the capitalist greasy pole, where some people are “more deserved” than others, so therefore can start up that pole much higher than others. The Canary workers cooperative should seriously consider the hierarchy. Does it need one?
      Question everything. Examine everything with fresh eyes.
      Certainly decisions need to be made on an hourly and daily basis , no question. However, who is best at making those decisions?
      Is it the person with the BA/MBA/PhD? No
      Is it the person with the most inherited wealth? No
      Is it the person who is a friend with the editor/sub editor etc? (all these should instantly be removed from any interview short list)
      Is it the person with the Eton and Oxbridge education? (I think everyone is sick to death with these narrow-minded bigots)
      Can I suggest that you take a fresh look at your recruitment policy. The following is just a small extract from “Involuntary discrimination in the workplace is a problem — let’s fix it” ( It’s a good read and only takes 6 minutes. It is far from the perfect solution, but it is a start.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.