Virgin Trains has come under fire for a competition in which voice-over services will be provided for free, with Equity branding the campaign “appalling and indefensible”.
An advert for the contest, starring actor Dean Gaffney, states that the train company is looking for customers to “audition” to become the “new voice of [its] talking toilets”.
Voice-over artists have accused Virgin Trains of trying to get free work out of members of the public and said that the competition was a “slap in the face” to people who do voice-overs for a living.
Equity’s Low Pay No Pay industrial organiser Charlotte Bence said: “Offering unpaid voice-over work as a competition is completely unacceptable.
“Equity members are all-too-familiar with so called ‘opportunities’ like this being used as a way to deny them work paid at an appropriate rate, but for a multimillion-pound, taxpayer-subsidised company such as Virgin Trains to offer up voice work as an unpaid competition is appalling and indefensible.”
Bence added: “Voice-over artists are skilled professionals, much like Virgin Train’s on-board crew or drivers, whose work they would never dream of opening up to this kind of bogus competition. Equity believes Virgin should apologise, withdraw this competition and engage with Equity over appropriate, industry-standard rates for the job.”
Actor and voice-over artist Claire Wyatt said the competition was “another example of the creative industries being seen as a hobby or something anyone could do”, while actor Matthew Bretton said it was “awkward” that Virgin Trains “are happy to pay Dean Gaffney to be in their advert” but not the winner of the competition.
Grrrr. This makes me angry. Another example of the creative industries being seen as a hobby or something anyone could do. I've been shortlisted as 'Female Voiceover Artist of the Year' today. If you want a proper voice for your loos, start with a paid professional!
— Claire Wyatt (@ClaireEWyatt) March 12, 2019 
Is it really so hard just to pay people for the service they provide? https://t.co/lkMQtOaPBZ 
— Matthew Bretton (@MatthewBretton) March 12, 2019 
The Twitter account for Virgin Trains has replied to numerous Tweets criticising the competition, telling one actor: “If you won a competition to give out the award for best actor at the Oscars, would you ask for payment? Or would you be proud that you were chosen as one of five members of the public? This is a competition, not a job.”
A spokesman for Virgin Trains said: “We have enormous respect for the acting community and have worked with actors and voice-over artists on numerous occasions over the years and will continue to do so.
“On this particular occasion, however, we are not looking to hire a professional actor, we are running a fun competition for customers to get involved with if they’d like to – people who would never normally have an opportunity such as this.”
The spokesman added: “There is no obligation to take part, nor to have any prior experience or training, nor is there any cost involved in the audition process. It should be noted, however, that we did hire an actor to participate in this campaign – Dean Gaffney has been paid a fair rate for his work and winners of the competition will receive some additional treats and surprises.”
A spokeswoman for the Advertising Standards Authority, which regulates adverts, said that it had not received any complaints about the competition.
She added: “As long as the ad is not misleading and the competition itself is run fairly and in accordance with our rules, then the employment or otherwise of the winner is not something we regulate.”
Virgin Trains has previously been criticised by Equity for asking singers to perform at an event in exchange for train tickets.