the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

14 July 2010

West End theatre managers heard yesterday (Tuesday 13 July) that many workers believe they will be worse off under proposals for a new pay and grading system.

BECTU's talks with SOLT representatives resumed after several weeks of assessment of a new draft agreement by workers in London's commercial theatre district.

Whilst management's proposals for seven new grades, several of which allow for salary progression, hold out the prospect of pay rises of between 7.7% - 21.6 %,  the loss of certain key terms prevents the union from recommending acceptance of the package in its current form.

Overtime proposals and Sunday working are unpopular 

Plans to cut the overtime rate from 1.5T to 1.25T for hours worked between 40-48 and to do away with the additional week's annual leave accrued by staff with more than 10 years' service make the proposals less attractive than they might otherwise be.

In addition, compulsory Sunday working remains a key stumbling block. Members remain anxious, variously, about the impact on family life, compulsion and the lack of compensation for this critical change to working arrangments.

BECTU fed back to theatre managers following extensive consultation with members, many of whom had compared current earnings with proposed earnings under the new structure and had found themselves worse off. SOLT's draft pay proposals.

That said, in the absence of confirmed bandings within the new grading structure, members had no option but to produce figures based on placement within the lowest band for their grade.

Summarising members' views ahead of yesterday's meeting, national official, Willie Lesslie, explained:

".. there is an overall feeling from all BECTU members, participating in a wide ranging, open and frank exchange of views, that the current draft does not address the over-arching principle of the background to the negotiating process that has gone on for some considerable length of time now; namely the eradication of low pay in the West End, the modernising of the working environment and modest but continuing improvements in living standards in an industry fit for the 21st century with the opportunity for career development open to all workers in theatre."

SOLT representatives said they needed more time to consider BECTU's representations but expressed the belief that they had reached "an impasse" in discussions.

Willy Donaghy, A&E supervisory official, underlined the fact that SOLT's proposals had not been rejected and that the union, having initiated the process of review, remained committed to concluding the talks to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

"BECTU's position is that we are committed to developing the skills based agreement. We always knew that this would never be easy but the fact that our members did not readily accept SOLT's proposals should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the process.

"We remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement to update and upgrade working conditions in the West End," Willy Donaghy commented.

Rates of pay under the SOLT/BECTU agreement are reviewed from the beginning of October each year.