Arts Council England has been accused of failing to enforce the payment of union standard wages on the projects it funds, meaning incidences of low pay are continuing unchallenged.
According to Equity, theatre employers are not always paying industry standard terms and conditions on funded projects, despite it being a requirement of receiving a grant. It described the funding body’s policing of this situation as “poor”.
Equity’s industrial organiser for theatre, Paul Fleming, raised the issue at a parliamentary inquiry into socio-economic representation in the arts, where he expressed concerns that bad practice was not being challenged in some scenarios where public money is involved.
Fleming said ACE had good, robust policies on fair pay, but added: “What is the point of having a policy if it isn’t being enforced?”
The Arts Council said all the organisations it funds are required to show that they are paying rates “in line with, or better than, recognised codes of practice and guidelines set by the relevant lead bodies”, and that this is assessed at the application stage.
However, Fleming claimed that such stipulations around fees for actors were not always being followed by producers, some of whom paid below union rates.
“What we know from members on the ground is that [ACE’s policy] isn’t the reality in terms of what is being applied. What we know from producers is that, on a number of occasions, the levels of award made do not reflect the full package of terms and conditions,” he said.
Fleming called on ACE to be more stringent in enforcing its rules, both before a project is funded and after completion.
He said: “What are they saying to a producer at the end of a project? The checks and balances of it, at the point of award and following the production, are poor.
“Once a job is concluded, they expect evidence that there has been public engagement, they expect questionnaires, they expect a body of proof around the evaluation of a project itself. Why aren’t they asking for payslips or evidence for invoices? That should form part of it.”
Responding, a spokeswoman from the Arts Council said: “We are committed to fair pay, and we ask all the organisations we fund to show how fees for artists, creatives and specialists are in line with, or better than, recognised codes of practice and guidelines set by the relevant lead bodies.
“We assess this at application stage for funding. It is in the standard terms and conditions for our grants, and we have frameworks in place for monitoring budgets across the lifetime of grants, as well as for responding to instances where our terms and conditions are not adhered to.”
Enforcing proper pay is also an issue in the commercial sector, Fleming said.
Earlier this year, Equity passed a motion to begin lobbying government about Theatre Tax Relief, calling for producers making use of it to be subject to union contracts.
“There is no requirement to use industry standard terms and conditions if you are getting Theatre Tax Relief. Tax relief is marvellous, we are very supportive of it, but enforcement, or even policy for enforcement, hasn’t trickled down,” Fleming said.