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West End deal secures 9% pay rise and paves the way for flexible working

Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End. Photo: Christian Mueller/Shutterstock Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End. Photo: Christian Mueller/Shutterstock
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Performers and stage managers working in the largest West End theatres will earn more than £700 a week as a minimum for the first time, as part of a new agreement that also includes measures for job shares and flexible working.

As part of the new deal, all performers and stage managers in every West End venue will see their pay increase by 9% over the next four years. In the biggest theatres, this rate will increase to £757.84 a week as a minimum in year four.

The agreement, between Equity and the Society of London Theatre, also includes:

  • A new clause that states management will “carefully and sympathetically” consider any requests for flexible working, including job shares.
  • A clause to ensure managers have a “dignity at work policy”, which artists will be told about at the point of contracting.
  • A revised code of conduct around auditions, including ensuring that performers are informed if they have not been given a job before news of this is revealed in the press.
  • New measures to protect performers in roles that are particularly physically demanding.
  • Increased clarity around the role of dance captains.
  • Improved payments for swings, increasing by 43% over the next four years.
  • Measures to ensure Christmas Day cannot be taken out of employees’ holiday entitlements.

West End organiser Emmanuel de Lange said members had voted overwhelmingly (98%) in favour of the deal.

He said it “delivers important improvements in our members’ terms and conditions, reflecting many of the union’s priorities going into the negotiations”.

“As well as pay increases, notably for some of our hardest-working members engaged as swings, covers and dance captains, this deal takes important steps in reflecting progress in wider society and delivers recommendations of Equity’s recent campaigns: the Manifesto for Casting and our Agenda for Change,” he added.

De Lange said the new clause around flexible working would mean every cast member could feel empowered to ask for a job share, to allow for a better work/life balance.

He described it as a “huge step forward”.

“Previously, members have had to go back to managers to argue their case for flexible working a number of times, for something that was in the end possible. A lot of members would feel nervous about pushing that hard,” he said, adding: “Having it there in black and white in the contract means the least confident member can talk to managers, knowing there will not be negative repercussions.”

De Lange said the new Dignity at Work clause in contracts followed on from the Agenda for Change report, which looked at how to tackle abuse and harassment in the industry.

Equity calls for tighter audition processes to protect actors from harassment

“It’s a statement of principle but also, in practical terms, it’s where you find out how you raise an issue in a way that is going to be dealt with properly, seriously and safely,” he said.

A new clause around auditions means performers will now be told the expected timeframe of an audition process.

“Most importantly, the agreement means members who have not got a job will be informed at the earliest opportunity and certainly before it’s announced in the press. I feel incredibly for members who are waiting to hear on a job only to read about it the press that they have not got it,” De Lange said.

It follows widespread pressure within the industry to give actors a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer following auditions.

Outside of the deal, Equity and SOLT have agreed to work on a number of other areas, including looking at contract buyouts, particularly around those for stage managers. The union said it would be launching a campaign for stage managers to make sure they know what they should be getting from these contracts.

Equity and SOLT will also collaborate on forming a working party to look at ensemble theatre, since the current agreement is structured for productions that have “clear leading roles, and a supporting cast”.

“That is not the way a lot of theatre is made any more and the agreement is not working perfectly for shows that are more ensemble-led,” De Lange said.

Equity’s demands for a five-day rehearsal week were not met, but De Lange said a working party would be set up around that, to “make sure there is a proper, serious discussion” about it.

“It is something we want to see happen and believe must be possible to deliver a better industry for parents and carers,” he said. He added that Equity members who feel strongly on this should get in touch with the union to be part of the working parties.

A spokeswoman from SOLT said: “We are happy with the positive outcome of these negotiations and the new agreement, which reflects SOLT’s commitment to being forward-thinking when it comes to our industry’s workforce. We look forward to continuing to work with Equity to make the theatre industry a more inclusive, supportive working environment for everyone.”

Leading theatres and casting directors sign up to #YesOrNo audition campaign

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