HOW SERIOUS IS THIS PROBLEM TO EQUITY?
Judge for yourself: this is a quote from a letter from Christine Payne (Equity General Secretary) to Hannah Reed (TUC- Senior Employment Rights Officer) that Equity has a sense of the scope of the problem:
According to our research around 7% of our members working in the performance industry in a given week were doing unpaid work. Worryingly this rises to 22% for those working in film and 21% in small scale theatre. Therefore there are clearly areas of the entertainment industry where enforcement of these basic rights needs to be improved.
In the meantime, here is the current (April 2010) Equity policy on NMW:
Equity has a policy on the National Minimum Wage. The Union does not have a right under law to make a National Minimum Wage claim but can support a National Minimum Wage claim on behalf of and with the consent of a named individual or a number of named individuals.Where a member approaches Equity for help because s/he believes a National Minimum Wage payment is appropriate, Equity will assess the claim and pursue it where the individual is judged to be a ‘worker’ and the claim has merit. Each National Minimum Wage claim will be judged on its strengths as with any other legal claim.
At the 2010 ARC there were two motions directly related to NMW and no/low pay issues. Both motions passed. The first motion (Equity ARC Motion#2) proposes to lobby the government to allow unions to fully represent their members. This lobbying is significant because actors generally are too vulnerable take up these actions themselves. If successful, the union could initiate complaints on the behalf of actors, triggering investigations and fines for employers who underpay actors.
The second (Equity ARC motion #3) proposes to create Equity leaflets to educate entry level employers about NWM and other low pay legislation, and inform these employers of the risks they are taking.
These motions combined realise the strong position Equity is in due to NMW legislation, combined with an effort to lobby to improve on this position to help vulnerable members.
TV & FILM
On the film and TV front, Equity has just published a new Low Pay No Pay leaflet. It represents new clarity and leadership in NMW and acting. The new Equity Guide to Working on Student Films contains a sample contract.
Equity is reviewing the current policy for fringe theatre. Since there is no legal exemption from NMW for share productions, these employers are likely to be in the same troubled boat as any other employers. Commercial and subsidised theatre from the West End to TIE is of course obliged to pay at least NMW to actors.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
This summer (2010) the Equity appeals committee has made a robust call for debate of NMW policy within Equity:
This hearing was extremely productive. The issues around which it centred, low pay, fringe theatre, profit share, and the National Minimum Wage, are matters of great concern to Equity members, and the Appeals Committee believes they merit the widest possible airing.
There may be more coming down the pipe from Equity to this very page, and that we can look forward to.
We hope to hear more directly from Equity soon, as they have been involved in drafting the HMRC NMW guidance for performers due to come out this year.