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BECTU launches drive to sign up theatre costume workers

RADA's costume design course will be the only postgraduate design course to be continued. Photo: RADA Short-term aims include setting up an internet forum to unite wardrobe professionals. Photo: RADA
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BECTU has begun a campaign to recruit theatre costume workers in response to claims they have felt “bottom of the pile”.

The entertainment union has proposed a package for costume members with short, mid and long-term aims, and an overall goal of improving workers’ conditions in the sector.

Short-term aims include setting up an internet forum to unite wardrobe professionals and organising a day of training about understanding pay agreements. The union will also distribute a new pocket handbook outlining basic rights and pay rates, with plans for a second handbook on contracts where workers are given a set fee for a specific term of work, known as buyouts.

BECTU’s assistant national secretary Helen Ryan said that “terrible” buyouts are one of the “biggest problem areas” for costume workers, who end up losing out financially compared with being paid hourly.

Mid-term plans include reviewing current job descriptors for roles in costume, so that workers know what can be asked of them in a job. Additionally, BECTU wants to set up an event for costume professionals in the autumn after consulting with members, which may include panel discussions, workshops and training.

Longer-term aims include publishing a rates card showing what workers should be earning for specific roles in the industry.

BECTU will be using the hashtag #DressCode to promote the campaign on social media. All workers in costume, including designers, costume makers and wardrobe supervisors, are being targeted via the campaign.

It follows an event in October last year, which was attended by BECTU, where costume workers voiced concerns and discussed issues they faced.

Ryan said: “There was a real issue about costume workers feeling like they are at the bottom of the pile. It’s about empowerment and us saying ‘you are not at the bottom of the pile, we’ve got to raise your voice’.”

She added: “We have listened to you, gone away and looked at it and come up with ideas with how we can move forward and work together.”

The campaign was announced at an event with costume professionals and BECTU on February 21.

Additionally, the union has announced that it will restructure its north, south, east and west London branches into one London branch for all freelancers and theatres within the M25. This will exclude any stand-alone branches for individual theatres, such as the Young Vic and the commercial West End.

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