Equity calls for crackdown on “exploitation” of performers

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Low-paid jobs and performer “exploit­ation” in the entertainment industry are on the increase, claims Equity, with the union warning that the rise is being compounded by the decreasing levels of funding available to arts organisations.

The union has now reiterated calls for tougher enforcement measures to be implemented by the government to crack down on companies that avoid paying the national minimum wage.

In its submission to the Low Pay Commission’s 2014 consultation, used to make recommendations to the government, Equity has argued that the “amount of non-paid work is growing” and claimed “an ever-increasing proportion” of its members are being asked to work for nothing.

The union said a survey of its members commissioned in 2010 found that more than 69% earned “either nothing or under £10,000 a year”. Two-thirds of its members, it added, had turned down work because it did not pay enough.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne said: “Despite Equity’s success in concluding collective agreements covering our main areas of work, low pay and in some cases exploitation of workers in the sector is increasing. Partly this is to do with a decrease in funding for organisations, but there are also cultural factors and perceptions of the industry that need to be tackled.”

She added: “Low pay and no-pay work is especially noticeable in areas where some of the lowest minimum rates are already in existence, for example for background performers working in film and television.”

Payne said some companies use their charitable status as an excuse not to pay the minimum wage, and has urged the government to issue clearer sector-specific advice for the entertainment industry on the NMW.

She said advice published by the government following a recommend­ation by the LPC in its 2010 report had not addressed the union’s concerns, and added: “It may be necessary for the LPC to reiterate its recommendation from 2010 and urge the government to act swiftly to remedy this situation.”

Payne said performers were too scared to “enforce their rights” and that the law could be strengthened if the government allowed unions to bring employment tribunals on behalf of its members. Currently, tribunals can only be brought by individuals.

She added that the union was “very concerned” about the alleged lack of enforcement activity currently undertaken by HM Revenue and Customs.

5 Comments

  1. Kouban Productions and The Hope Theatre are trying to set a new standard for the Fringe theatre industry and are committed to paying everyone involved in their upcoming production at least the national minimum wage! We believe that the current model is outdated and with the help of the Hope Theatre, we are participating in an experiment that will hopefully give producers and theatre owners something to think about.
    Help us push fringe to its evolution, away from the ‘profit-share’ model! Donate to our campaign and become part of the evolution!
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/koubanproductions/ushers-the-front-of-house-musical

  2. So why doesn’t Equity use some of the £1.2 million it has sloshing about in a ‘mystery account ‘ to fund fringe theatres and give grants to theatres that can’t afford to pay actors or staff? Instead they’re paying lawyers to ask the High Court what they are allowed to do with the money! What a Union! For whose benefit was it set up?

  3. Ok, one question- where does that leave actors tax wise. It has been my understanding that actors are usually classed as self-employed for tax and NI. If a company pays NMW (as they should) and the actor has set hours (rehearsal/ production) they sound like employees, not self employed. That affects what we can write off taxes (travel, wardrobe, makeup… potentially even classes). I am all for a company paying above NMW (would be about 220 for a 40 hour work week), but is anyone worried about giving up self-employed status?

  4. Toby,
    Equity is a TRADE UNION who must use their funds for MEMBERS. When did fringe producers become Equity members? What a union-too right-it’s great. For who was it set up?
    MEMBERS (ie theatre workers), NOT PRODUCERS (ie those who employ people). If you actually read the articles, without a court decision the 1.2 million will slosh forevermore and benefit noone. least of all Equity members. Don’t ask Equity to do the job the tories are failing to do-a union supports workers who are members. That is the law Toby, please don’t kneejerk in an uninformed way. How about producers pay and not exploit?

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