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Equity calls for meeting with Virgin Trains after ‘ill-judged’ defence of voice-over competition

Equity general secretary Christine Payne. Photo: Philip Hartley
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A row between Equity and Virgin Trains concerning voice-over artists has intensified after the head of the actors’ union accused the rail operator of having an “offensive” lack of understanding for the entertainment industries.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne has written to Virgin’s managing director Phil Whittingham requesting a meeting to discuss a Virgin competition in which members of the public will be chosen to become the “new voice of its talking toilets”.

Voice-over artists have criticised the plans, which they say amount to Virgin Trains trying to get free work out of the public when it should be paying professional artists to provide the services.

In her letter, Payne said tweets by Virgin’s social media team had attempted to “downplay the nature of the work” because it would only amount to a single day.

However, she argued: “Professionals in the entertainment industry make their living through short-term engagements such as this, and these day-long jobs can be a vital source of income for workers between longer contracts or other sources of work. Virgin Trains’ social media team has indicated that five members of the public will be selected for this ‘opportunity’, meaning that what should be five paid jobs for members in our industries have been denied to them.”

Following claims that Virgin’s competition is a “slap in the face” for voice-over artists, the train company likened the situation to a being offered the opportunity to present the Oscars, suggesting that the selected people would be proud that they were chosen rather than ask for payment.

In response, Payne said: “This argument is egregious in the extreme, not least because presenters at the Oscars and other similar awards ceremonies are in fact compensated for the work. More fundamentally, you are a taxpayer-subsidised, multimillion-pound train company – not, in fact, an entertainment industry awards ceremony.

“This attempt at comparison is at best ill-judged, at worst offensive, and again underscores the company’s lack of understanding or appreciation for the entertainment industries.”

She went on to question Virgin’s claims in The Stage that the company had “enormous respect for the acting” community, and said: “We would question which part of turning what should be paid work for professional voice artists into a competition for the public is respectful of our industry or the people who work in it.”

“To that end, I invite you to meet with Equity at your earliest convenience to discuss this competition and the ramifications for professionals in our industries, and the rates of pay and wider terms and conditions you offer in your future engagements,” Payne added.

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