L-R Andy Snell (HMRC), Martin Spence (BECTU), Gus Baker (Intern Aware), Sharon Elliott, (BECTU) at BVE/The Production Show on 16 February 2012. Pic: Alex Beaton
23 February 2012
Offers of unpaid work in television production are a blight on the sector and are illegal. That was the clear message from a discussion session held at a major trade show last week (16 February).
The session, produced by the people behind Creative Toolkit, a new site aimed at new entrants in the creative media and arts sectors, drew a packed audience, proof positive of the abuses which need to be stamped out.
Register a complaint
Andy Snell, business unit head of the National Minimum Wage Compliance Unit, the HMRC department responsible for handling complaints about non-payment of the national minimum wage, was unequivocal about workers' entitlement to be paid at least the national minimum wage. He urged those who are working without payment to report the facts to the Unit and to seek assistance with enforcing their rights. The government's Pay and Work Rights Helpline is at 0800 917 2368.
Martin Spence, BECTU assistant general secretary, and a regular contributor of evidence to the Low Pay Commission, highlighted the support available through the union to challenge unpaid work.
If employers are not paying you, where else are they cutting corners?
The union is in a position to receive complaints from members and to pass them on to the HMRC, he said; he also urged those offered unpaid work to really consider the conditions they are being asked to work under including those relating to their safety. If an employer is prepared to break the law on the national minimum wage, where else will they be prepared to cut corners? he asked.
Gus Baker, co-founder of Intern Aware leant his support to the event stressing the need for action by individuals and organisations to tackle employers who exploit new entrants. Intern Aware works to promote better and equal access to paid internships.
Creative Toolkit provides key info for new entrants.
Challenge unpaid work and help to stop the abuse
Gus cited the case of Keri Hudson who successfully sued her employer for unpaid wages in a case supported by the NUJ. This case followed another successful case brought by Nicola Vetta with BECTU's support which demonstrated that expenses-only engagements are illegal and that furthermore no-one entitled to the national minimum wage can be forced to forego it.
Just say no?
Sharon Elliott, the union's communications officer, urged the audience to 'think critcally' about the opportunities which come their way. "New entrants are educated and they have skills and what we want is for new entrants to recognise that they can influence a difficult situation by being more confident about selling their skills to secure the most basic of entitlements, the right to be paid."
Questions from the audience covered the definition of work experience, how to protect ideas when these can be requested by employers as part of a selection process, surviving as a freelance and contract enforcement when the work is to be done outside the UK.
Watch the debate
The event was filmed and the footage (New Entrants' debate) can be viewed from this page.
Creative Toolkit is part of a project supported by the Union Modernisation Fund to assist vulnerable workers in the sectors covered by BECTU.
To support the site a series of Help Notes is being produced; the first two, Business Skills for Freelances and Essential Tips for CV Writing can be downloaded from this page. Also available on that page is a confirmation of booking template to help freelances to define their contractual agreements.
Keep in touch with BECTU; follow @bectu @sharonatbectu @creativetoolkit
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