Actors NMW FAQ: The basic facts on minimum wage

The answers to the following questions were provided at the request of actorsminimumwage blog by Kit Friend.  Kit is chairman of the Arts Group*, an organisation protecting the interests of 50,000+ emerging artists.

When was the NMW started?
The National Minimum Wage was introduced in the UK in 1999. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_wage).

Why does the minimum wage exist?
The NMW was introduced to increase the living standards for workers and reduce poverty. (http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/issue_guide_on_minimum_wage/).

How is the NMW good for the for the arts?
Fair pay ensures that workers in our industry are able to sustain themselves whilst working in the arts, whilst arguably Living Wage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_wage) is needed for this, NMW goes someway towards it.

How does NMW work to overcome elitism?
Fair pay for work means that people are able to access an industry from whatever background they come from, not just because they can be subsidised by prior privilege and if they don’t really have to work to pay their way.

What risks are companies (producers) taking who do not meet the requirements of the NMW legislation? What are the penalties?
The HMRC enforces NMW legislation. Those found guilty of infringing its tight conditions must pay in full the amount due for work done at NMW, and may be eligible for a penalty of 50% of the total underpayment that has occurred. (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/payroll/day-to-day/nmw.htm#7, http://www.berr.gov.uk/policies/employment-matters/rights/nmw/enforcement).

How is the NMW enforced?
The HMRC have a helpline (0800 917 2368) infringement can be reported on, and officers nationwide investigating non-compliance. (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/nmw/#d).

Why hasn’t it been enforced in the arts?
The HMRC and other bodies have been lax in investigating infringement in the Arts, and a culture has grown up expecting unpaid work, despite it being illegal. (http://www.artsgroup.org.uk/resources-documents/emerging-workers-report/).

Can my union help me if I am being exploited?
Yes! Contact them! You can also report your case directly to the HMRC as mentioned above. (info@equity.org.uk).

Are there exemptions?
Not really within the Arts. The only exemptions to NMW for workers are within the military, share fisherman, and some workers who live with their employers (au pairs etc).

What if they are calling the work ‘volunteering’?
If what you are doing meets the description of ‘work’ you’re a worker. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/payroll/day-to-day/nmw.htm#2)

What if the employer company is a charity?
There is still a big difference between workers and volunteers within a charity. Working for a charity still falls within NMW. (http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1081674285&type=RESOURCES)

What about ‘deferred payment’?
Payment for work must be guaranteed and paid at at least NMW.

Will there likely be an exemption created for performers in Fringe and Low Budget Films?
Unlikely, and there shouldn’t be – workers are workers.

Do I have to be paid in money? Can I be given stake-holding or profit share instead of payment?  What if they offer me a DVD as payment?

How likely is it something like the fisheries model be adapted for arts collaborations?
There’s very little movement on the legislative side at the moment, and any moves should be towards ensuring that workers get at least NMW if not more. A move to a fisheries type model would not be conducted on the premise of allowing unpaid work, but to enable proper sharing. For the moment it’s best to model your practice on paying people at at least NMW, in addition to any profit sharing plans.

Should low budget/ fringe producers feel threatened by this? How do they protect themselves? Are things likely to change for them?
Yes. You should budget effectively and properly to pay everyone working on your project. This is likely to mean including these in your initial fundraising plans. There are already test cases showing ‘expenses only’ engagements and similar are illegal (http://www.bectu.org.uk/news/548) and you can expect to be made to pay retrospectively. Secure yourself and our industry by planning to pay from the outset.

Have a look at the Business Link NMW FAQ which is not specific to actors.

*With over 50,000 members, The Arts Group is the definitive voice of creative students in the UK. They aim to offer support and information to members of the Arts Group and provide an opportunity for lobbying in conjunction with organizations such as the NUS, the Arts CouncilsSector Skills CouncilsMembers of Parliament and the GovernmentAcademics and the media.
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2 Responses to Actors NMW FAQ: The basic facts on minimum wage

  1. Claude Starling says:

    I’ve been talking with the Arts Group for 6 months or so. Together we’re trying to educate students and their establishments of their obligations when employing actors.
    Vote Starling for Equity Council – he’s on it!

  2. Brilliant. Everyone needs to know their rights on the current legislation. You can’t just “opt out”.
    It won’t lead to the death of the Fringe or low budget films. There will be less unpaid work, yes, but ultimately more paid work and the standard will rise when minds are concentrated on quality, not quantity.

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