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Agency u-turn labelled a 'shambles'

24 March 2010

BECTU has called last week's government u-turn on reform of the agency rules in the entertainment sector a 'shambles'.

There are obvious loopholes in the proposed new Employment Agencies Act. The industry needs clear rules for the protection of vulnerable workers

National official, Spencer MacDonald, whose responsibilities include representation of BECTU's background artistes section, the FAA, reacted with disbelief to the news that long overdue reform of the agency system in the entertainment sector has suffered a major setback.

Contrary to the announcement last November that the government would ban the up-front fees charged to background artistes, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced last week that it had decided to step back from the move in favour of a 30-day cooling off period to permit those affected to challenge rogue agency practice.

Responding to the news Spencer MacDonald said:

"BIS have lost its way. The decision to extend the cooling off period, from seven days to 30, in the belief that this will resolve the problem just proves it.

"Current bad practice should be condemned rather than the way paved for  agents to saturate the industry resulting in fewer and fewer jobs for those trying to make a living from it."

"There are obvious loopholes in the proposed new Employment Agencies Act. The industry needs clear rules for the protection of vulnerable workers."

"Given the work that has been done over years by ourselves and our colleagues in Equity, to highlight the exploitative practice of some agencies the current state of play can best be described as a shambles."

The union’s view has been consistent on the practice of up-front fees through many consultations.  BECTU has explained repeatedly that background artistes are engaged on a group or collective basis and rarely as individuals; this makes the obligatory payment of up-front fees for entries in directories which offer no benefit to them simply invidious.

The general secretaries of BECTU and Equity, Gerry Morrissey and Christine Payne, have written to the government minister, Pat McFadden to seek an urgent review of the decison.

Dissatisfaction with the current system has led BECTU to invest resources in a project to examine the prospects for a co-operative agency. The project is taking advice from Co-operativesUK.

Interestingly enough, the project has attracted support funding from the Union Modernisation Fund which is managed by BIS.

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