the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

25 November 2009

The Employment Tribunals, sitting in Reading, have ruled that workers engaged on an expenses-only basis are entitled to payment at least in line with the national minimum wage, in addition to payment for the holiday they accrue.

The decision arises from a case brought by Nicola Vetta, a former art department assistant, against London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd.

BECTU supported the case and has welcomed the judgement as an important milestone in efforts to rid the industry of exploitative employers who deny new entrants their lawful right to be paid for the work they do.

The decision emphasises that creative industry employers are not excluded from obligations under the national minimum wage regulations.

BECTU’s assistant general secretary, Martin Spence, gave evidence at the hearing on 20 November 2009.

Nicola Vetta was engaged  in July 2008 on an expenses-only basis by  London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd for its production Coulda Woulda Shoulda.

BECTU provides information and opportunities for students via its Student Register; new entrants can join BECTU as full members at a discounted rate. 

Importantly, the tribunal’s decision confirms that workers cannot be denied their statutory rights to payment even where they respond to advertisements offering work on an expenses-only basis.

Commenting on the decision, Martin Spence said:

“This decision will give enormous comfort to industry workers, and in particular to new entrants, who face huge demands when they are starting out but who can often find themselves at risk of exploitation.

“The industry’s reliance on unpaid labour is giving film and television production a bad name. We hope that this judgement will draw a line in the sand and that we will see more employers complying with the law.”

No to zero-cost labour

Nicola Vetta provided the following assessment:

"I am delighted with the outcome and I hope it will bring greater fairness to work in the media.  There is a need for genuine work experience but it is wrong for employers to exploit the aspirations of young people as a source of zero cost labour.  
“In today's difficult jobs market, this practice seems to be increasingly common. Working for free is becoming accepted as a necessary investment to securing a paid job.  I hope that publicising this case will help to reverse that trend."

Thousands of students graduate each year in the hope of working in the media and entertainment sector. Many industry websites advertise entry-level jobs on the basis of expenses-only giving rise to complaints.

BECTU has been active in exposing bad practice and is working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to get both sides of industry to recognise that the law on the national minimum wage applies to the creative sectors.

London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd, which was represented at the tribunal by producer, Bobby Singh, was ordered by the tribunal to pay Ms Vetta a sum in excess of £2000.

The full judgement from the tribunals is expected in the next few weeks.

The Sector Skills Council, Skillset, published Work Experience Guidelines in 2007, at the request of the authorities.

The guidance was a response to the furore created by the 2005 TV Wrap campaign.

TV Wrap exposed widespread exploitation of new entrants, with independent producers being the worst offenders. The guidelines were produced to clarify and curtail the abuse of work experience.