West End actors are pushing for an unprecedented 44% minimum wage hike in their forthcoming negotiations with London theatre managers, The Stage can reveal.
Equity will demand that the current basic minimum pay for actors working in the West End, of £381 per week, is increased to £550, while a new second minimum rate of £650 is also introduced to cover performers who are required to work Sundays.
The claim marks a very significant increase and Equity has warned that it is unlikely to be accepted easily by employers, despite the West End having recorded another record year in 2006.
Christine Payne, Equity general secretary, has taken the step of writing to members of the union to ask for their support. “It is possible that the coming months will be difficult, and that our campaign for a fair wage may mean that members have to make hard choices,” she has told them in a letter sent last week. “Equity will need your support, but I believe that, if we work together, the rewards will be worth the effort.”
The union’s decision to appeal for such a large pay hike, which will also apply to stage managers working under Equity contracts, has come after research among members showed they felt the current minimum was “hopelessly inadequate”. Performers also claimed that the minimum for straight plays should be increased to £500 and for musicals to £600 – Equity has chosen to take the middle point in its bid for a unified basic minimum wage.
Payne told The Stage that the bid was a serious one, and not an attempt to begin negotiations with an unrealistically high figure. She explained: “We think this is achievable. Equity has never been a union to put in claims just for the sake of it, and we don’t want to give our members false hope.”
If successful, it will mark the first significant increase to the West End minimum since 2002. The union’s previous attempts in 2005 to have it to £400 were abandoned after a deal could not be reached with the Society of London Theatre.
It would also mark the first time that a Sunday agreement was included in the principal Equity West End agreement. A previous so-called ‘side letter’ Sunday agreement ran out in 2004, and since then Sunday openings have been negotiated on a case by case basis.
Equity will begin negotiations with SOLT in May and it is hoped that they will be completed and the new arrangements in place for the beginning of next year. SOLT chief executive Richard Pulford said the society did not comment on ongoing negotiations.