About This Blog

This Blog will follow the National Minimum Wage news as it relates to acting and the performing arts.

If you are an actor, this fact may change your life; there is no exemption for workers in the entertainment sector.  For every hour you work as an actor, you should receive at least minimum wage.

Soon the UK National Minimum Wage (NMW) will have a big impact on the acting profession. Possibly the biggest change for actors since Equity was formed.

In the last couple years, several arts associations/unions including Equity, the TUC, The Arts Group, and BECTU have taken a stronger position to ensure their members receive minimum wage whenever it is appropriate. Following on recommendations made by the Low Pay Commission, the government has committed to issuing guidance for the entertainment sector this year (2010). Increased enforcement is likely to follow.

The NMW applies to most workers and sets minimum hourly rates of pay. It is intended to benefit business as well by ensuring that companies compete on the basis of quality of the goods and services rather than low prices based mainly on low rates of pay.
(National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999, SI No.584 (as amended))

If you need to know the basics of National Minimum Wage (NMW), have a look at the FAQ prepared for this blog by the Arts Group Chairman Kit Friend.

There are clearly many instances where actors should be paid and aren’t. Where actors are underpaid or are on expenses only, they should be paid at least NMW plus reasonable expenses.  The law makes no exemption for underpaid collaborative short/indie films and fringe theatre projects which fit under the NMW definition of work.  Fringe theatre managers and indie film producers are knowingly and unknowingly taking big risks of fines and criminal convictions when they do not pay/underpay their actors.

In short the unpaid/underpaid culture is at odds with the law, and employers will in future be paying more and more penalties.

The acting profession is divided about unpaid/underpaid work. There is a interesting moral argument which takes the position that it is good for actors to work for free, in order to advance their careers.  Many people say the exposure from unpaid and low-pay work is essential for career building and artistic expression.

This leaves actors with some unanswered questions.  Is the acting profession unique? Do employers somehow deserve an exemption from NMW law when hiring actors? Once the government further clarifies the application of NMW for performers how strictly can it actually be enforced?

These are important questions, but do not let them distract from the basic fact; The law indicates that workers are to be paid. Acting is work and subject to NMW.

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20 Responses to About This Blog

  1. Claude Starling says:

    There are theatre companies that have been going 20 years and are still not paying actors. As a trade union shouldn’t Equity be asking why, and bring these companies onto its contracts to create more paid work for its members?

  2. Andrew Macbean says:

    Student Films! I would like any actor who has done a student film and not received a copy of the DVD to e mail me the name of the teaching establishment and the director. I will build a data base to start a campaign to get all Universities/Colleges/Schools to force their students to adhere to Equity’s short film guidelines. Let me know via Facebook or e mail andrewmacbean@talktalk.net. Cheers Andrew

    • Andrew MacBean is a candidate for Equity Council.

      Andrew believes that Equity should focus its energies concerning low pay into sectors which are either well funded or operating commercially. He believes it is his right to work in collaboration with other artists if he chooses. This includes fringe productions.

      Andrew believes that fringe work is an exciting and important part of the business. In an ideal world it would be funded either by government or a generous patron and all contributors would be paid. Given it isn’t, as part of Equity’s Independent Theatre Arts Committee he is working to revise guidelines to improve conditions on the Fringe and create a recognised and transparent way of accounting to ensure profit share is paid were ever possible. His campaign to be elected to Equity Council can be followed on Andrew MacBean for Equity Council

  3. Yana Yanezic says:

    NMW should apply to everything!
    I don’t understand why would somebody want to work for nothing and saying they need exposure. To me it rings as a nowday’s wannabe and not a professional.
    Any professional production should provide MNW, being a low budget production.
    If a production is not paying crew or actors then it is AN AMATEUR PRODUCTION, making/producing films or theatre or anything similar as a hoby and not professionaly!
    Simple!!!
    Does anybody walk into a shop and says, I will have your car for free to give it exposure…yeah right!

  4. There is very unfair funding system at the moment with some RFO’s unchanged for 30 years. Everyone else gets project funding that does not reflect the standard of the work. Some companies can offer work at very low prices whilst others have to charge a competative rate. There is almost a culture of the profit share to get your leg on the ladder as a producer and director. THere need to be a total re -thinking of how tha arts is funded in Britain allowing for new exciting work whilst sustaining the old.

  5. Sarine says:

    At the beginning of any artists career it is important to build up portfolio and exposure yes! But, how long this should go on for is debatable, and the chances of really being able to use what you have made is slim to none. Therefore, actors take huge artistic risks for no pay, on the off chance of good exposure. It is becoming a phenomenon in the UK to expect actors to work for free and a line must be drawn somewhere.

  6. David Ross Elliott says:

    The are always production companies who will find somebody else if one is not prepared to work for nothing. The industry is so saturated now that anybody who is prepared to shoot or put on a play for nothing to attain further credit, will always be unable to resist taking on less experienced artists and crew in order to get their project done. The all the unions have lost control and credibility protecting and supporting artists in the arena with production companies, who either set the rules or need not abide by any. With broadcasters, studios so hungry for product, there is a very fine line between the professional and the amateur all grappling for the same jobs. If the unions kept a tighter rein on the producers in the first place and insisted they only employed professionals, none of this would be happening. The problem we face now is that the line between pros and amatuers has been allowed to dissolve over the past decade or so, (combined with easy access to production facilities through digital technology) that has given way to those hiring getting what they want for nothing and in many case today, not recognising the difference in quality. The professional actor is someone who makes a living from what they do and we need legislation with the government with support from our unions to make sure that employers are not allowed to hire us for nothing.

  7. emma coghill says:

    As an actor, I am constantly being told I should be grateful for work whether paid or not – the payment for non-paid work is “experience” which to a limited degree I agree with. However, in few other professions would you pay so much to do his job, (considering training payment, headshot costs, travel expenses to auditions, extra top-up classes, plays and scripts, and subscriptions to casting publications and websites etc etc) and THEN have to accept not being paid for some of the work. My grudge in particular has been recently that I’ve done a number of unpaid short films in order to compile a showreel to further my audition potential; as it has turned out not only have I not been paid for this work but have had to badger the film-makers for months for the copy of the film that they promised as payment. But I digress, fundamentally we should not have to put up with unpaid work. If we can set the bar then we should and low-budget productions would find the funding necessary.

    • emma coghill says:

      Sorry – just a bit more to add that I forgot in my diatribe! Established companied who still only employ actors on a ‘profit share’ basis knowing full well that they will make a fortune that they will then be able to retain by either i)not giving a breakdown of the accounts or ii)fiddling the accounts so that “expenses” reduce whatever they have to pay their actors. This is unacceptable especially since they prey on young graduates who are keen to work but inexperienced. Often it means being tied into months work and coming out of it seriously in debt which is barely relieved by the money they (eventually) pay you; pay which often will not work out as minimum wage for the hours you have put in.

  8. Demon Lee says:

    It is not just actors, all too often production companies will expect PROFESSIONAL photographers to work for nothing and to HAND OVER the copyright of the images… this industries problem is that there are TOO many independent production companies working in solitude and spreading investment and funding too thinly, if more production companies merged and worked together to produce better scripts with bigger budgets, then many of the problems relating to low pay or no pay would resolve themselves… there needs to be LEGISLATION as to WHAT a production company must adhere to.. we all have RIGHTS whether you are an actor or on the production or crew…

  9. NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE IS FOR EVERYONE! Actors are protected by the law too!

  10. Phil Shaw - Casting Director says:

    I’m totally behind you guys on this and have been an active campaigner for boycotting non-paid work to actors. Would anyone else, apart from volunteers, in the public sector not get paid an hourly/weekly NMW? Of course not, it’s unthinkable. I’m spreading the word – you are doing what Equity should have dealt with many years ago. Why do actors pay subs if their union does nothing to protect their members from exploitation?

  11. You have a voice- and if you are an Equity Member you have a vote. When the Equity Council election forms drop on your doormat, take a look at the members who are trying to tackle this issue head on. (me for one)
    On the top left of this webpage is a link to all those candidates, in fact. See “Equity Council Candidates” and make your choice.

  12. “I agree with Sharon”.

    Vote for those candidates who are have/are and will tackle this issue head on INCLUDING ME 😉

    http://bit.ly/as5n0i

  13. Abigail Tarttelin says:

    Please see our discussions and join in on the Equity Young Members’ Committee board. We are a democratically elected Equity committee representing all our members. The remit of our particular committee is to look after the interests of young performers and industry entrants, to whom this low pay/no pay debate particularly applies. Would love to have your opinion. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=114477418592383

  14. blake askew says:

    I propose Equity draws up a blacklist of sorts of all established theatre companies that underpays actors and this is circulated. If this is done, maybe people will understand.

    • Naming and shaming employers who underpay is a practice used for interns at TV Watercooler (see links below) and http://internsanonymous.co.uk/ where unpaid interns tell their stories. However naming and shaming and blacklists have their drawbacks as well. And may create a hostile and divided industry before there has been a chance to educate employers and workers about NMW law.

  15. George Wolstenholme says:

    What’s your name, AMW? Can’t seem to credit any of your writing to an actual person, or group of people.

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