Philippa Childs makes debut conference speech in Brighton

19 May 2019

The union's first female boss addressed maintaining Dignity at Work, engaging young members and the changing precarious working world in her opening statement.

Head of BECTU, Philippa Childs has today made her opening statement at the union's conference and chose to focus on the role of the union in helping members maintain dignity at work as well as touching on the importance of engaging young people to ensure the future of trade unionism.

The conference, which took place in Brighton, marks two years since the last gathering of members, reps and officials, and saw Philippa Childs address 200 delegates, highlighting the union's achievements and plans.

She congratulated BECTU's history of campaigning and also commended recent union successes in the face of ever challenging industry pressures.

The union's first women leader also praised much-loved colleague, friend and predecessor Gerry Morrisey.

Read the full conference speech below:

Opening statement

Joint President, Conference, Philippa Childs, Head of BECTU, making an opening statement and in doing so I would like to give you a warm welcome to the 2019 BECTU Sector Conference, particularly those of you who are new Delegates and joining us for the first time.

To say that it’s been a busy two years since we were last together would be an understatement, but during that time, we’ve achieved a great deal. BECTU continues to grow and is the biggest Sector of Prospect by some margin. That’s thanks to all of the hard work of our Branches, Organisers and Officials.

We’ve launched a number of innovative campaigns to boost our recruitment of new members, including those in Live Events and VFX and we continue to develop the support we offer to Freelancers and this year we held our first Freelancers week to highlight the ground breaking work that we do in this area, in that week alone bringing in 120 new members.

But our membership is also growing in Arts and Entertainment and whilst the environment is more challenging in the BBC and BT because of cuts in staffing we are still holding up well. We’ll hear more about those challenges and opportunities for growth later on the agenda.

Since we were last together we’ve concluded an important agreement on terms and conditions in the BBC and whilst I know that we’re currently in the implementation phase, which was always going to be the difficult bit, the agreement itself was the culmination of years of hard work by our reps and officials.

We’ve also concluded the long running talks on the Major Motion Picture Agreement and after the first year of working with it we’re currently reviewing how it’s working in practice to ensure that any issues that have arisen in its interpretation are ironed out.

In BT the team are currently dealing with some very difficult industrial relations issues arising from changes to the pay and grading structure running alongside plans for significant job losses.

We’re currently in dispute with UK Theatres about pay and the implications for our members of the employers desire to ‘modernise’ the UK Theatres Agreement, for ‘modernise’ read cut terms and conditions which will inevitably result in our low paid members being worse of. We’re also currently in dispute at the BFI over pay and working conditions. So, as ever, the industrial landscape remains challenging.

BECTU has a proud campaigning history and that has continued over the last two years with our campaign for the Government to honour its pledge to fund free TV licences for over 75’s rather than passing the buck to the BBC.

The Eyes Half Shut and Standing Up campaigns continue to be crucial for our Freelance members.

In 2018 and with the support of the Mayor of London and over 100 theatres we launched the Theatre Diversity Action Plan. But we must and can do more.

The theme for our Conference today is about Dignity at Work and irrespective of whether our members are employees or Freelancers I would like us to go away from today determined that becomes a reality for all of the people we represent.

As well as ensuring that our members have good terms and conditions, safe working environments and enjoy a good work/life balance I also want to be sure that we’re doing all we can to break down barriers to success and promote diversity and inclusion across the creative industries.

I was struck by the report published by the TUC on Friday that found that 68% of LGBT workers had experienced harassment at work. That’s a staggering statistic but we know that change will only come because of trade unions, like BECTU, addressing those issues in the workplace.

During the 6 months that I’ve been in post I’ve heard a lot from B A M E members, particularly Freelancers about the challenges of breaking into the industry and the problems that for many have led to a conscious decision to look outside of the UK for work. That simply doesn’t make sense at a time when the UK Film Industry is booming so we must ask ourselves why and think about what more we can do to break down those barriers.

In recent months we’ve been successful in resolving a number of equal pay cases at the ENO thanks to the diligence and determination of our members and reps. It’s no coincidence that gender pay gap reporting shows that where trade unions are recognised for pay bargaining the gender pay gap tends to be narrower but as the ENO success shows, there’s still more that we can do.

So Dignity at Work is much more than a slogan. It’s about ensuring that our members, wherever they work, whatever their background, irrespective of their employment status are treated well, respectfully, in a good working environment, free from harassment and discrimination. You’ll be hearing much more from us about this campaign in the next few weeks so I hope you’ll get involved in this important piece of work.

2019 has been designated by the TUC the year of the young worker. Earlier this year BECTU held an incredibly successful Find your Future event working with partners in the industry to provide networking and access opportunities for students. We’ve also been doing outreach work with Colleges and Schools to highlight the importance of a collective voice for workers in the industry. The BECTU Young Members  Committee have recently launched our first Future Film Makers Festival which will take place in September to coincide with lots of activity to recruit young members into BECTU. This work is crucial to our future success. As the world of work becomes more precarious it’s important that we recognise that union membership is not necessarily the obvious step for our children that it was for us. To continue to be relevant we must think about what young workers want from us, how we communicate our message and through what channels. Our Young Members Committee are playing a crucial role in that conversation.


Follow Philippa on Twitter @philippachilds.