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2012: a challenging year ahead

Posted by Gerry Morrissey on 19 December 2011

(This article was first published in the Dec/Jan issue of Stage Screen and Radio).  

First, I’d like to thank the branches and members of BECTU for re-electing me as General Secretary for a further five-year term. I feel privileged to be able to represent the membership across all areas of our industries and I hope to continue to do this to the best of my ability over the next five years.

Not surprisingly the last year has been difficult with the economic climate and government cuts affecting our members’ employment. However, despite these difficult times we have continued to protect members’ pay, pensions and conditions of employment.

BBC pensions

We had very difficult negotiations with the BBC over the future of the final salary pension scheme. However I am confident that we have achieved the best negotiated deal possible, bearing in mind a deficit of £1.5b. I am equally confident that we would have found it more difficult to achieve that agreement now, bearing in mind the current decline in investment returns.

In many areas such as theatres and cinemas we have taken significant steps to eradicate low pay and will continue to make that a priority. We have in recent weeks agreed with the BBC that the subcontractors they use, for example catering, security and cleaning, will be paid no less than the London Living Wage from 2014. This may seem a small step to some but to those affected it is up to a 20% pay increase.

One of our achievements this year has been the implementation of the freelance pay and conditions agreement for those employed in [BBC] drama. We intend to build on this agreement in 2012 and hopefully reach a similar agreement with other broadcasters.

BECTU should also be proud of our achievements in training, diversity and equality matters. Our website continues to flourish and more members and branches are accessing the facilities that it provides. If branches need any assistance they should contact communications officer Sharon Elliott at selliott@bectu.org.uk

During 2011 the Writers, Producers & Directors branch set up a number of events including the annual Freelancers' Fair. These events involved not only many members of the branch but freelancers across London and the south east. Their achievements are an example to us all of what can be done at grass-roots level. We also had a Move on Up event in radio and news and the Creative Toolkit website, funded by the Union Modernisation Fund, is now up and running and is there to help new entrants. For more information on the Creative Toolkit go to www.creativetoolkit.org.uk.

BECTU 21st anniversary

BECTU will be 21 years old in 2012 and it’s hard to believe that it has been 21 years since the amalgamation of BETA and ACTT. During that time the union has faced a number of huge challenges which we have faced successfully as well as defending the rights of freelancers and staff members. The next edition of Stage Screen & Radio will be a special edition celebrating the past 21 years of BECTU as well as looking ahead to the future. Our annual conference in Manchester on 26 May will also celebrate the past 21 years and I look forward to seeing all branch representatives at conference.

Challenges ahead

In the BBC, despite getting them to withdraw changes to members’ terms and conditions of employment at least until the end of 2012, we will still be faced with significant redundancy proposals and the negotiations of the terms and conditions will be extremely difficult as the BBC wish to reduce its wage bill and we will not, under any circumstances accept pay cuts, be they in the form of basic pay or allowances.

Commercial television, especially ITV, has seen a steadying of the ship in the last year as revenues and legislation offer the opportunity for growth and therefore we hope that there will be improved employment possibilities for members in the sector during 2012.

We expect 2012 to be a challenging year for freelancers. Major film production will continue to be buoyant but middle-to-low budget productions will be light on the ground. For those freelancers who avail themselves of the BECTU public liability insurance, I am confident that we will be able to announce a significantly improved package in advance of the renewal date in spring.

Unfortunately cinema projectionists are finding their jobs disappearing as a result of digitalisation. Thanks to the efforts of our shop stewards and full time officials some redeployment opportunities will be available but a majority of our members within this grade are likely to be facing redundancy over the next 12 months.

Despite making significant progress on pay and conditions of employment, subsidised theatres will find it extremely difficult in 2012 after cuts in central and local government grants.

The impact of the Olympics

The commercial theatre sector has produced extremely good results in 2011, however in London’s West End many of the producers and theatres are concerned about the effect that the Olympic Games will have on their business as research from previous cities who have hosted the Olympics showed that there was a reduction in business of up to 40% during the games.

However, the Olympics will be a major employment opportunity for freelancers as well as for staff who work for the BBC and other broadcasters; for some time we have been negotiating with facilities companies and broadcasters about what is expected of our members during the games and we are outlining what we expect back in return.

We are always keen for members to get as much value as possible from their union membership. To add to the core benefits, in 2010 we introduced BECTU Plus, a package of member discounts on a range of products and services, some of which we all use. I am sure that more members and their families could be saving money by using this service: full details of which are available through the BECTU website at www.bectu.org.uk/bectu-plus.

In the 10 months to October this year, members’ top five companies/services were Columbus Travel Insurance, Baxters Car Insurance, Member Energy, Cashback Gift Cards and Holiday Autos. The total money saved by members over the period was £17,401.20, just over £10,000 of that figure deriving from use of Member Energy. So if you’re looking to buy a product or service, it makes sense to check the BECTU Plus pages first.

Last month we had our first meeting of BECTU’s Youth Members Forum. These are union activists under the age of 27. It is vital for the future of the union that every branch does all it can to involve young members in their activities.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity of thanking all of our members for their support and wish them and their families a happy Christmas and healthy and prosperous New Year.

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