Writers join campaign against unpaid work

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Writers have become the latest group to complain about working for free and are now calling on the government to support their right to be paid.

Their complaints follow those of performers, who regularly say they are asked to appear as extras and background artists in films and television productions for no fee, and musicians who protested at being asked to perform for free at Olympics gigs during London 2012.

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is now taking its members’ complaints to parliament, and is calling on MPs to support a list of recommendations it has drawn up as part of a document entitled Let’s Get Paid.

In particular, this highlights the planned tax break system set to be introduced next year for producers of ‘high-end’ television, animation and video games.

John Byrne

It states that the government must “stipulate inclusion of paid writers as part of the points system” used to determine a company’s right to the break.

The document adds: “Too often writers, the experienced invisible participants, are expected to work for not just low pay, but no pay. The Writers’ Guild wants to highlight that this doesn’t only affect the young starting out in their careers, but established writers in their 40s and 50s. Would MPs, lawyers, teachers and policemen work for free because they believe passionately in their job? No? Then let’s get paid.”

The guild states that all organisations or projects in “receipt of public funding”, including the BBC’s licence fee or arts council money, should include “a development budget specifically for direct payment to writers”.

It is also calling for arts council funding to be refocused “away from buildings and back on to creators’ fees to provide for new writing development”, and urges all educational establishments, “from primary schools to universities”, to “pay writers for preparation as well as presentation of material”.

In its document, the guild highlights a “growing trend” towards asking writers to “contribute substantial amounts of unpaid work” to projects, including treatments and research.

It adds that writers are being asked to “subsidise development from which others expect financial return”.

The guild, which is due to meet MPs this week, also argues that the creative professions are often regarded as “passions” that people are “privileged to follow”.

“Those who produce and exploit our work, however, know that acting, music and writing are crafts, without which they would have no product,” it states.