Why didn’t OOSKA News pay this writer?

Maybe Léo Siqueira should write for our site. He’s used to not getting paid for his work.

But hold that thought — we’re volunteers. Siqueira is supposed to be compensated for the stories he writes. He’s a Brazilian freelance correspondent who writes stories for media outlets such as OOSKA News and USA Today.

Unfortunately, OOSKA News (now AquaNow.info), a Dutch media company that produces newsletters about global water-related matters, published six of his stories without paying him for his work. Even more unfortunately, Siqueira will probably never collect a single penny for his stories.

His case is a sad reminder of the necessity to obtain signed contracts before beginning work for pay. Without a signature on a binding contract, a company can stiff you and get away with it — as Siqueira and six colleagues found out the hard way.

In 2014, Siqueira, who is based in São Paulo, wrote to the publisher of OOSKA News, offering to write about Brazilian water issues.

The editor in chief responded to Siqueira, providing him with a list of OOSKA’s then-current needs and inviting him to send pitches for stories. She also sent him a document indicating that OOSKA would pay $65 for 400-word stories and that payments would be made on a bimonthly basis, around the 21st day of the month, for all contributions published in the previous two calendar months.

Siqueira inquired about the company’s payment methods and was told that OOSKA News would compensate him through PayPal. He then sent pitches and wrote stories for OOSKA without filling out any paperwork, such as a signed contract for his services.

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After two months passed without Siqueira receiving any payment, he emailed the editor in chief, who responded that the publisher “missed the most recent payment cycle… because he was making up some old payments.”

Huh?

According to the editor in chief, the next payment cycle would occur the following month. But Siqueira didn’t receive any payment from OOSKA News for the next month. He wrote again to the editor in chief, who promised to speak to the publisher and update Siqueira. But there was no payment — and no update.

Over the next year, Siqueira followed up repeatedly with the editor in chief, who told him that she couldn’t give him a date when he would be paid. She finally told him to contact the publisher directly. Siqueira contacted our advocates instead, and we contacted the publisher.

OOSKA News’ terms of use don’t contain any language addressing freelance work or compensation. And, unfortunately, without a signed contract indicating a commitment on OOSKA’s part to pay Siqueira for his work, he will have a difficult time collecting any pay. He isn’t sure contacting a lawyer is worthwhile, as he’s owed less than $400.

The response Siqueira finally received from the publisher after our advocates reached out to him bears that out. He wrote:

Thank you for your thoughtful message, Leo. I cannot responsibly make a written time-commitment at a time when there are no funds available. I will not mislead you, I hope you understand. Yes, there is a business plan. I work every day on executing it. In plain English — meantime there is no money, has not been for a while, and timing of money, and subsequent payment to suppliers is uncertain. It would not be responsible to make specific commitments under these circumstances. I reiterate that I am optimistic that a solution can be found, at which time a payment plan or other arrangement will be sought.

So he cannot responsibly make a written time-commitment at a time when there are no funds available, but he could publish freelance copy on his site? He works every day on “executing a business plan” but “there is no money and subsequent payment to suppliers is uncertain”?

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Siqueira told us of seven other correspondents for OOSKA News who haven’t been paid in at least two years. One of them is due as much as $20,000.

Sounds like this company’s business plan can be summarized as “Publish but don’t pay. Just blow off freelancers as long as possible.” Which might be forever.

Will OOSKA News’ freelancers ever receive any pay for their work?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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