From L to R: Joe Mahoney, new entrant Liam Kay, Tony Lennon, Benetta Adamson and Anna Stacey. Pic Rod Leon
1 July 2009
Visitors at this year's Freelancers' Fair have challenged BECTU and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to do more to tackle low pay and inequality.
The calls for action, aired during a 90 minute discussion about the challenges which new entrants face in trying to get established, were expressed with urgency and increasing frustration.
What is clear from last week's debate, titled Getting Started, is that four years on from the ground-breaking TV Wrap campaign not enough has changed.
The furore created by that campaign's exposure of the extent of exploitation of new entrants, particularly in independent production, led to the introduction of a set of industry-backed guidelines, the Work Experience Guidelines and increased recognition that the industry is covered by regulations on the National Minimum Wage.
But are the guidelines being observed? Is the law being upheld? Post TV Wrap, are there any signs of improvement?
Long hours, low pay and nepotism continue as barriers to establishing a career, said speaker after speaker.
Long hours, low pay and nepotism continue as barriers to establishing a career, said speaker after speaker last Friday at BAFTA.
The debate, chaired by BECTU president Tony Lennon,certainly tackled the most difficult issues first in a day-long programme of seminars and workshops.
What emerged from the session is a view from the industry's freelance workforce that the industry in crisis.
The fundamental mismatch between the numbers of people trying to make a living from the media and the size of the industry has been obvious for more than a decade.
This critical imbalance has created an 'employer's market' characterised by extended periods of unpaid work experience, illegal rates of pay and long hours.
Those attending last week's session clearly believe that the current situation is neither sustainable nor ethical for an industry which is at the top of its game globally and which, even with the current recession, will continue to be profitable.
One speaker cited 38 graduates on his media degree course 11 years ago, with just two of that group still now working in the industry. That situation is bound to have been made worse by the expansion in the number of media training opportunities available today.
The waste of resources in terms of education and training, lost hopes for so many talented individuals, and the damage to the industry's image should prompt more concerted action against the poor treatment of new entrants, BECTU believes.
Anna Stacey, joint head of the National Minimum Wage unit at the newly named Department for Business Innovation and Skills (formerly BERR) urged people to complain to her department about conditions which breach the national minimum wages rules.
The Pay and Work Rights Helpline number is 0800 917 2368. The department states that "All suspected cases of underpayment are investigated. Workers who don't receive the minimum wage may also claim it through an employment tribunal or civil court".
Whilst this method of complaint is necessary, in an industry where opportunities are hard to come by, it is a fact that few will feel able to pursue complaints without fear of victimisation.
All employment in the UK is covered by the National Minimum Wage regulations which currently provide for a minimum hourly rate of £5.73 for adults; a development rate of £4.77 for young adults aged 18 - 21 and £3.53 for those aged 16-17. Those under 19 and employed on an apprenticeship are exempt from the NMW.
Benetta Adamson, producer, and a leading campaigner for better conditions for new entrants, endorsed the principle of collaboration in film-making but insisted that this did not have to mean, and should not mean, exploitation.
Joe Mahoney, managing director of Production Base, explained that his company was committed to refusing job ads which offered work without pay. He expressed doubts, however, that this dubious practice could be eliminated altogether.
New rules on the enforcement of the National Minimm Wage were introduced in April this year.
The other key theme to emerge from this session, was the demand for more and better guidance for new entrants about employment rights, insurance and health and safety.
It was said that some colleges and universities were not providing sufficient information in this area.
BECTU plans to provide more resources of this type via the website and to pass this information on to students signed up to the union's Student Register.
Plans are underway to arrange further talks with BIS about the conditions for new entrants; it is expected that these talks will involve BECTU, other entertainment unions within the Federation of Entertainment Unions, and lead industry training organisation, Skillset.