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Pay rises, job shares and a five-day week – Equity submits ‘ambitious’ West End claim

London's West End. Photo: Tom Eversley/Shutterstock London's West End. Photo: Tom Eversley/Shutterstock
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An ambitious claim has been put to West End theatre bosses that seeks to overhaul working conditions in Theatreland, by enabling more job shares and imposing stricter conditions around rehearsals.

The West End claim has been described as seeking to enable “progressive change” by union Equity, and to make work more feasible for actors and stage management teams with families and caring responsibilities. The claim has been submitted to the Society of London Theatre for consideration.

Among its most significant demands are:

  • Banning rehearsals on Sundays and limiting initial rehearsal periods to Monday to Friday.
  • New clauses to enable job shares and encourage flexible working.
  • An increase of around 6% on minimum rates of pay.
  • Better conditions for covers, including higher rates in understudy payments.
  • Introducing a weekly travel fee of £32 for people who live between 25 and 60 miles from Charing Cross in central London.

West End organiser Emmanuel de Lange described the draft claim as one that seeks “ambitious, forward-looking improvements to the working conditions of our members”.

He said: “Our members have told us that they want to see increases in minimum pay and pension contributions, a five-day working week where possible, and a fairer system for rewarding covers and ensemble members, as well as raising stage management differentials and ensuring buyout contracts are properly used.”

He added: “As this agreement is likely to set terms for several years into the future, it is vital that industry-standard practices allow for progressive change in employment conditions for parents and members with caring responsibilities, as well as ensuring a safe and dignified working environment.”

Equity’s push comes as campaigning body Parents in Performing Arts continues to strive for better conditions in the sector for people with families.

Theatres across the UK bolster childcare support as part of PIPA campaign

The draft claim seeks increases to minimum rates of pay that would mean performers and stage managers working in the bigger venues receive a rise from the current £694 a week to £735.

In addition, Equity is seeking to ensure there is an eight-week gap between a week requiring nine performances and the next such week, as well as a clause making it possible for members to leave a long-running show after six months once they have completed an initial 12-month contract.

The union also wants a £3,000 relocation payment to members who have to relocate to work in the West End and is putting pressure on managers not to count Christmas Day as a holiday day.

The draft claim also puts more emphasis on “dignity at work”, with enhanced clauses relating to conduct at auditions, as well as terms making it a performer’s right to ask for job shares and flexible working. Last week, performer Charlene Ford made history when she became the first performer in the West End to secure a job share for 42nd Street in the West End.

42nd Street performer becomes first in West End history to job-share

Equity’s claim also includes a dedicated schedule for puppeteers to reflect the growing use of puppets in major productions and improvements to stage management roles.

Equity said it had a 40% response rate from its West End members to a survey it carried out earlier this year, which has formed the basis of the claim.

A West End working party, including Equity president Maureen Beattie and performer Summer Strallen, met fives times to put together the claim, which the union said “represents the ambitions of our West End members and will form an excellent basis for the negotiations with West End managers”.

The current SOLT/Equity agreement expires in April next year. SOLT declined to comment on the claim.

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