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BECTU and UK Theatre at loggerheads in dispute over pay

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Entertainment union BECTU has accused UK Theatre of having a “callous disregard” for workers in a dispute over a joint pay agreement between the organisations.

The two parties have been unable to agree to updates to the UK Theatre/BECTU Agreement, which covers offstage staff at most commercial and subsidised theatres outside of London.

BECTU has accused UK Theatre of “turning its back” on the agreement and having a “callous disregard” for workers by refusing to agree to pay increases set out by the union.

However, UK Theatre argues that BECTU has “refused outright” to agree to a series of proposals that “would have delivered the real living wage and substantial pay increases”.

BECTU said it has been seeking uplifts to the UK Theatre Agreement since 2017, including annual pay rises for staff at 124 UK theatres.

According to the union, UK Theatre is arguing against proposed uplifts to pay increases and is also seeking to decrease payments for working on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

BECTU has accused UK Theatre of doing the “bare minimum” by “only agreeing to legally required pay increases for those on poverty pay”, and has urged the theatre membership body to reconsider its position.

The agreement will continue to exist, but according to BECTU, “UK Theatre will only require theatres to implement what is required by law”.

BECTU assistant general secretary Helen Ryan said: “This is a step backwards for common decency and completely undermines the positive collaborative work between the union and UK Theatre to improve pay and working conditions for workers in this low paid sector.

“UK Theatre seems prepared to leave workers worse off than the terms of their current agreement, which shows a callous disregard to the people working tirelessly to represent UK Theatre in its best light.”

Ryan added: “It is a shame they are choosing to play politics over putting the well-being of industry workers front and centre of the industry in a move that will affect the quality of life for so many people by meeting the bare minimum legal pay requirements.”

A statement from UK Theatre said the two organisations had been in discussion for more than three years to modernise the UK Theatre and BECTU agreement.

It said UK Theatre had increased the wage rates set out in the agreement by a minimum of 8% at the highest grade [of pay] and a minimum of 10% at the middle and lower grades over this time.

It said these were above inflation increases and were interim measures, pending “wider negotiations over modernising the agreement”.

A spokeswoman added: “Despite giving UK Theatre numerous assurances of their desire to deliver a revised and modern agreement, BECTU has rejected outright a series of proposals that would have delivered the real living wage and substantial pay increases at every grade, and has formally advised UK Theatre that it doubts it will be able to agree to the changes required to bring that about.

“In such circumstances UK Theatre is not able to offer any increase in the rates set out in the agreement.”

The statement adds that UK Theatre remains prepared to engage with BECTU through workplace experts ACAS.

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