the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

14 December 2009

A national level meeting should take place is the New Year where BECTU will challenge the BBC on its treatment of PAYE freelances working on drama series.

The union has accused the Corporation's management of imposing a pay cut on PAYE freelances by changing the terms of contracts without notification.

The result has been a cut in income of up to 3 per cent since July 2008.

The issue only came to light this summer when BECTU members working on the BBC Scotland production, River City, reported that they had not been paid for their work on public holidays.

Public holiday pay cut

PAYE freelances have the same rights as fixed term contract staff

Typically, these days have been paid for at the end of a contract as heavy scheduling prevents staff taking public holidays when they occur.

PAYE freelances have the same rights as fixed term contract staff and frequently are offered buy-out terms known as Special Fixed Salary (SFS) contracts.

The established practice has been for public holidays payments to fall outside of the SFS.

Explaining the current dispute, Paul McManus, Scottish organiser, said:

"The current dispute arose earlier this year when PAYE Freelances working on SFS contracts at River City were not paid their usual holiday days at the end of their contracts. On questionning this, they discovered that they were now only getting statutory minimum holidays."

At a divisional level disputes meeting in Scotland, management claimed that producers on the Scottish soap had explained this change to each and every crew member individually and that agreement had been secured. 

"BECTU disputes the suggestion that crew were advised of the change; some crew members didn’t know about the loss of the additional leave until their final pay of the second (one-hour) series earlier this year."

Under an SFS contract the BBC can offer a rate which buys out the basic wages for a 40-hour week, plus an agreed number of overtime hours, and other allowances which may be due. 

That said, the individual being offered an SFS contract is entitled to reject this method of payment and to insist on being paid basic wages plus any overtime worked and allowances.

Paul McManus estimates that up to 50 crew members on River City could be affected by this loss of income; the dispute could also affect members on other BBC dramas, such as Holby City and Eastenders.

PAYE freelance contracts for all drama series are drawn up centrally by the BBC's Freelance Unit (commonly known as W12) on the instructions of local management. 

BBC managers have stated that the changes introduced on River City simply brought contracts there in line with changes made to contracts across all BBC drama output.

Did individual consultation take place?

Crew members who have worked on River City since July 2008 are being asked to comment on the suggestion that producers sought and secured the individual agreement of crew to the change in question. Contact Paul McManus

"It is appalling to BECTU that PAYE freelances across drama may have had a “hidden” paycut imposed on them. It is worth remembering that often the reason these SFS contracts are offered is because they can be cheaper than paying basic wages, overtime and allowances separately," Paul McManus explained. 

Members affected can pursue grievances against the BBC for less favourable treatment because of their contract type; the union's officials can provide more information and help with lodging the grievance.

BECTU is urging all PAYE freelances working for the BBC to check their contracts and to report any discrepancies to their steward or to their full-time official; this feedback will help BECTU to build up an accurate picture of the extent of this dispute.

Members are also being advised to seek advice from BECTU if they are about to sign a new contract.

"We also hope members will remember that they are entitled to insist on being paid a basic 40-hour weekly wage plus overtime and allowances as an alternative to the SFS." Paul McManus emphasised. 

Members who make contact with BECTU will be updated as the dispute progresses.