DTI consultation - National Minimum Wage and Voluntary Workers: BECTU comments

26 July 2007

  1. BECTU is the trade union for all workers (other than performers and journalists) in the audiovisual and live entertainment sectors, including broadcasting, film, independent production and theatre. Almost half of our members are freelances - working mainly for broadcasters, film producers and independent producers for TV and film.
  2. Within the freelance sector we have found increasing evidence of exploitation of people as "volunteers" who, in our view, should be paid at least the national minimum wage. Therefore, while we do not operate in the "third sector" and do not wish to respond to the consultation questions concerning specific issues in that area, we do wish to draw your attention to our concerns, which we believe are relevant to this consultation.
  3. We accept there are three distinct categories of "workers", "voluntary workers" (as defined by s44 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998) and "volunteers". Our concern focuses on the potential overlap between the first and third categories (ie workers and volunteers) in our sector. In particular, we note that "Volunteers are outside the scope of the Act, but are relevant here if doubts arise about whether someone is a volunteer or in fact a worker who should be paid the national minimum wage"(p10).
  4. One of the main areas where this problem arises is in respect of the most junior grades or occupations in freelance TV or film production ie those of "runner or even "receptionist". Runners will typically fetch and carry messages and materials, run errands, provide refreshments and occasionally drive personnel between points as required. They are the most junior personnel on a TV/film set and will typically be young people just seeking to enter the industry.
  5. Problems have arisen because of an increasing trend for individuals acting as runners to be categorised as "volunteers" working for no pay and with perhaps limited expenses. There is sometimes an alleged "training" element - but with a complete absence of any training structure or context. Such unpaid posts are sometimes even advertised on internet job sites. We regard this, unequivocally, as exploitation of young people desperate to gain experience in the film/TV sector.
  6. A second and specific area where we have noted a growth in unpaid "volunteering" is in respect of film/TV extras or walk-ons. BECTU organises walk-ons and we are therefore very familiar with recruitment practices (through agencies) and typical terms and conditions. "Volunteers" are used completely outside the normal professional structure with no written contractual agreements, no use of agencies, often on a day-only basis, and with purely verbal arrangements. Individuals are not paid and yet are subject to specific time/place requirements and often asked to wear specific clothing. Again, we view this as exploitation of individuals who may be are attracted by the superficial glamour of working on a film/TV set.
  7. We believe the problem areas outlined above already constitute the unlawful exploitation of individuals who are falsely described as volunteers but who are in fact workers with rights under the National Minimum Wage Act. However, we believe there would be definite merit in a further tightening of the law in respect of "volunteers" or in the production of clear related guidance setting out the criteria distinguishing "volunteers" from "workers".
  8. Some of the elements which we believe should be highlighted are:
    • the exclusion of "volunteering" on what are clearly commercial enterprises rather than voluntary sector/not-for-profit activity and where there are clear professional occupational comparators.
    • the need for any alleged training element to be supported by meaningful evidence of a training structure or context.
    • the need for volunteers to be genuinely supernumerary and therefore free to come and go of their own volition rather than being subject to expectations of attendance on specific timescales at specific locations.
  9. We believe that specific attention should be paid to the audiovisual and entertainment sectors, which have a superficial glamour and which serve as a point of attraction for individuals, especially young people, who may be tempted to relax their normal expectations of being paid for work. We believe there is a strong element of cynical and deliberate exploitation of such individuals by commercial companies whose motivation is not driven by voluntary/charitable/training purposes but is wholly financial.
  10. We have sought to address this issue by direct intervention in problem areas and by contributing to the industry guidelines for television employers offering work experience placements (produced under the auspices of Skillset, our sector skills council, and endorsed by DTI). However, we believe that further and stronger regulatory intervention is now needed to address the problem of false "volunteering" in the audiovisual sector and to eradicate such areas of exploitation.
Last updated 14 August 2007