BECTU is urging theatres across the UK to take advantage of the government’s offer to pay employees up to 80% of their salaries during the coronavirus outbreak.
As part of emergency measures to protect jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak last week announced that the government would pay 80% of salaries for businesses, capped at £2,500 per month.
Now BECTU has written to UK Theatre, the Society of London Theatre and Ambassador Theatre Group urging the organisations to confirm they will take up the government’s offer to ensure as many workers as possible are still being paid.
According to the entertainment union, it has been engaged in discussions with UK Theatre, SOLT and ATG since theatres shut down to negotiate a minimum interim agreement for staff payments.
BECTU said it rejected an initial offer, before government intervention, which was for staff on permanent contracts to be paid 50% of their basic salary, because this offer “did not cover many people who work on zero-hours contracts and other casual contracts, as well as not being enough to live on”.
However, the government has now offered to pay up to £2,500 for everyone who is on a Pay As You Earn system, which includes staff on zero-hours contracts.
BECTU has said it is offering to work with theatre producers and venue operators to ensure that pay to employees is based on their past earnings rather than contracted hours, to “deal with the variety of contractual relationships in the theatre industry”.
A press statement from the union said: “BECTU is calling for situations such as scheduled closure of shows to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
“For companies that have cash flow problems, BECTU is flagging additional measures such as interest-free loans available from today.
“However, if there is some compelling reason why these mechanisms do not work, BECTU would, as a last resort, be willing to consider a clause for a lower percentage, in negotiations, for a limited period until there is clarity on how quickly money will be given to companies.”
Head of BECTU Philippa Childs said: “Our proposal is a reasonable request for a minimum agreement, but we have been clear that we will continue to lobby and secure better terms with those companies who we believe are able to pay more.
“These companies have a responsibility for their workforce and during these difficult times everyone needs to come together and share the burden of financial responsibility.
“We will continue to lobby on behalf of freelances as well as PAYE workers to ensure that they are getting the right deal from government and employers using these schemes.”
A spokesman for ATG said: “Our first priority is to our teams. We welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement on Friday, and are working with industry partners SOLT and UK Theatre to ensure we take advantage of the government’s offer to support our staff members.”
UK Theatre and SOLT declined to comment at this time.