The Green Room: What do you think of Equity?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Rosemary It’s vital. I get a bit furious when the Equity rep comes in on a job and there are people who aren’t members.
Albert Oh God, what a question.
Ros I’ve only been a member of Equity for a year (tut tut, me) but it’s proved to be very worthwhile and important.
Jon Is there a split in stage management between Equity and BECTU?
Ros Most of us are Equity members. BECTU is more for technicians.
Peter I can’t understand why anyone would not want to be in Equity. Firstly, for self-interest; it provides services like legal protection. Secondly, it seems selfish to work on Equity contracts without contributing to the organisation that has negotiated them.
Rosemary Quite right, Peter. Also, I have a close friend whose mother was in Equity her whole career. She died quite poor. Equity paid for the funeral. It was very moving.
Albert But what does it do? Other than send out magazines and not answer the phone?
Rosemary Albert, are you kidding?
John It may not feel like Equity is the greatest ever when it comes to contract, pay hours and that kind of thing – but as soon as you are being done over on a job, it will be right behind you.
Jon I knew we should’ve discussed something non-controversial like religion or Brexit.
Peter What does it do? It negotiates agreements, takes up legal cases, canvasses governments, provides a pension…
Albert I get the legal side, several people having had cases fought for them. I get the public liability insurance side.
Rosemary So if you get that, what a silly question.
Peter It fights our corner with HMRC too.
Albert And loses with HMRC, is not respected by theatre producers, doesn’t have anywhere near the power of the Musicians’ Union or BECTU and thinks it has a right for people to be members.
Peter Do you really believe that employers would not be paying us less without a union?
Albert It must realise it has to sell its services.
Ros I joined because of a bad experience on a job. Since then, it has offered invaluable advice, sorted payment issues. It has been great. And I’m loving having a pension.
Peter The pension is really valuable.
John Equity is worth it just for the pension, everyone should join it just for that. Only pay when you are working, and the employer matches the contribution. Free money.
Jon On pensions, there’s an actor I know who isn’t an Equity member and now has about six tiny pension pots from different jobs.
Peter Precisely, Jon. It is the only option for a person who is constantly changing employers.
Albert I’d happily pay the ridiculous subscription it wants if instead of telling me how much it was canvassing, it told me what the benefits were of being a member.
Rosemary Watch out for gaps in the
Albert That’s why I do TV and film.
Peter The subscription is low compared to most unions. Equity is one of the few unions with a rising membership. It must be doing something right.
Albert The subscription if you are earning over £50,000 a year is ridiculously high. I’ve paid considerable subs every year for 40 years and on the one occasion my agent wanted some help from them, the immediate response was “we don’t have an agreement for that”.
Rosemary It fought for me a few years ago. I can’t go into the details, but Equity got me full pay and compensation and was completely brilliant, understanding and consistent.
Albert Well, that’s good to hear.
Rosemary Equity fought for a friend five years ago who fell through a gap in the stage. It fights for us. That’s what it does. You have to hope you don’t need it.
Ros It does fight for us. And I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Equity this last year.
Peter There was a stage manager who fell at the Soho Theatre and is now in a wheelchair. Equity got her about £4 million.
Albert Yes, and these cases are exemplary and probably worth the subs alone for many people, but in fighting agreements and actually understanding the world in which actors work these days, it’s out of touch. I know when producers have meetings, the last union they know they have to take any notice of is Equity. The stars are getting paid more than minimum so they are okay – and everyone else is grateful for the work.
Rosemary But there is a minimum, Albert. And it’s called Equity minimum. Because of Equity.
Albert And Equity minimum has now become a guideline, certainly not something that is adhered to.
Jon Well, it’s adhered to on Equity jobs, in fairness.
Peter Negotiating minimums is difficult. Obviously, we’d like them to be higher. They’d be appreciably lower without Equity.
Rosemary Are there things we think Equity could do better?
Peter On sexual harassment, Equity has been so busy over the years dealing with cases confidentially that it hasn’t made enough noise about the issue – but that’s changing.
Jon There was the kerfuffle recently when Equity made a distinction between ‘actors’ in plays and ‘performers’ in musical theatre, but maybe that’s for another time…