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Actors ‘not entitled to minimum wage’ claim agency staff

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Casting website StarNow has come under fire from BECTU and Equity, after staff justified its adverts for unpaid and low-paid work with claims that actors are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

An employee at the website, one of the most popular for background artists and extras looking for work in the UK, made the claim after being contacted by a performer. The artist raised concerns about a job she had seen advertised on the site, which offered £40 for a day’s work.

She queried this, saying it fell below minimum wage, and was told by the member of staff that the minimum wage does not apply to the acting industry because actors are “considered to be self-employed”.

However, both BECTU and Equity have hit back at the claim, arguing actors are defined as workers because they are engaged under the direction of an employer.

Equity spokesman Martin Brown said: “StarNow is completely mistaken in its view that actors are self-employed. Under most circumstances actors fill all the criteria in National Minimum Wage legislation to be considered workers. I hope that StarNow will correct the advice they have been giving their clients. I would encourage any actor engaged through the StarNow website who believes they should have been paid at least the National Minimum Wage to approach Equity and we will assess whether they have a winnable claim.”

When approached by The Stage, a spokeswoman for StarNow said the staff member who responded to the performer’s query about minimum wage was “in training” and apologised for “any confusion caused”. But despite her insistence that the email was the work of an inexperienced employee, The Stage has seen an email sent by a different member of staff at StarNow last year to a performer who had another query about minimum wage. In this case, the StarNow employee made a similar claim about the minimum wage not applying to actors.

StarNow has said that unpaid and low-paid jobs are, and will continue to be, advertised because they help performers “gain valuable industry experience”.

It added that the company listed productions offering low or no pay if it was satisfied these complied with the law, in order “to meet the needs of our members who are keen to gain as much experience as they can”.

However, BECTU national official Spencer MacDonald condemned the use of such adverts and said they “exploit those people looking for work in the entertainment industry”.

“The glut of low or no pay jobs being promoted by this website is a clear violation of the minimum wage laws,” he said. He added that StarNow should be conscious of the damage done to the industry’s image by advertising such jobs.

MacDonald remarked: “We hope the employers will stay on the right side of the law, but if they don’t, BECTU members should contact the union and we will take up the case.”

Next week The Stage publishes a low pay/no pay special issue

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