Improving worker involvement - HSC consultation: BECTU comments

5 July 2006

    Roving safety representatives

  1. Our primary focus in terms of improving worker involvement is on the issue of roving safety reps and therefore on paras 69-72 of the Consultation Document. Since this does not seem to be especially addressed in any of the consultation questions, we set out our comments at this point.
  2. BECTU is the trade union for workers (other than performers and journalists) in the audiovisual and live entertainment sectors. Approximately 10,000 (38%) of our members are freelance. They may sometimes work directly for broadcasters which also have permanent staff and a system of in-house safety reps. However, they will very often work in the independent production sector (ie for production companies commissioned by broadcasters), in film production, in commercials and in related areas (eg corporate production).
  3. The typical nature of their work is that it is wholly project-based, with a workforce that is entirely freelance ie the workforce comes together solely for a specific production and then disperses at the end of the project. Depending on their specific grade or occupation, some of these freelances will have PAYE (ie employee) status; others have Schedule D tax status which indicates they are self employed for tax purposes but is compatible with various forms of employment status. On any given production there is no ready-made system of safety reps and - for all but the longest projects - no time to construct one. This is compounded by the varied employment status of the workforce - which means that the eligibility of self-employed freelances to be safety reps can be called into question.
  4. The consequence is that this whole sector of independent production for film and television functions without any effective system of safety representation. This causes us great concern since, in our view, these workers are even more vulnerable to health and safety hazards than are permanently employed workers - in view of the highly pressurised nature of project work; the tendency to work long hours with tight deadlines; and the frequent use of temporary, improvised workplaces ie location rather than studio work.
  5. We therefore welcome the HSC's consideration, in para 69, of roving safety reps in three possible categories. The only meaningful category to address the problems outlined above would be (c). Neither (a) (workers of the same employer at other sites) nor (b) (workers of other employers at the same site) is appropriate or relevant for freelance project work. We are therefore disappointed that the HSE - even prior to the consultation exercise - has taken the view that 'such a change is unnecessary onshore' (para 15) and that 'we are making no proposals' (para 71). We strongly urge a reconsideration on this point.
  6. As indicated in para 70, 'Currently, the SRSC Regulations permit the appointment of representatives of type (c) only by the actors' union Equity and by the Musicians' Union'. We strongly favour the very specific and eminently manageable step of giving BECTU equivalent status.
  7. We believe that the only reason why BECTU was omitted when the Regulations were first drafted is that freelancing among technicians (ie our members) was then much less prevalent compared to among actors and musicians. Since the mid-80s, there has been a huge growth in independent production for television and in the casualisation of the technicians' workforce. It now seems anomalous that BECTU is not included within the scope of Regulation 8. As long ago as February 1998 we wrote to the relevant Minister requesting exactly this amendment to the SRSC Regulations.
  8. We believe such an amendment to Regulation 8 would allow BECTU- accredited and trained safety reps or BECTU full-time union officials to act as safety reps for the temporary workforces in independent film and television production.
    • We believe we could work constructively with the relevant employers association (PACT) to this end, especially as they were joint sponsors of our WSA Challenge Fund bid. We are recognised by PACT as the relevant trade union for freelances in our area.
    • We would propose to build and extend our pool of accredited and trained freelance safety reps and make them available for this role. There need be no obligation on the employing company to engage such an individual on their production but if they were engaged, we would then expect them to be recognised in their role as safety rep.
    • If, on the other hand, a safety rep was not so engaged, we are proposing that they could visit the production in their roving safety rep role on the basis of union expenses only - if no agreement could be reached on any company payment.
  9. We believe the above change is necessary and desirable. A purely voluntary approach will not work in an extremely fragmented sector with very many SMEs operating below the level of the overall employers association. An amendment to Regulation 8 will, in our view, give the necessary impetus to a very desirable change.
  10. The outcome, we believe, would be:
    • A sustainable general improvement in H&S across the independent film and television production sector.
    • A self evident benefit to the workforce but also an advantage to those companies which already invest in H&S and are being undercut by those which do not.
    • Increased accident-prevention and greater reporting of accidents.
  11. We therefore look to the HSC to rectify the long standing anomaly of BECTU's exclusion from Regulation 8 of the SRSC Regulations.
Last updated 6 March 2007