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Letters of the week

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Recent pay fears are unfounded

In relation to fringe theatre it is worth making some comments on recent coverage.

Firstly, a legitimate partnership has nothing to fear from national minimum wage claims (Leader, May 30, page 6). Only bogus partnerships need worry. Partnership advice is available on the Equity Low Pay and No Pay (LP&NP) web page – www.equity.org.uk/campaigns/low-pay-no-pay – to assist union members wishing to set up a genuine co-operative business venture. A partnership deed is required, most properly formulated through the services of a reputable solicitor with experience in this field, as a partnership is a serious professional venture that should be entered into in an orderly manner.

Secondly, Equity’s LP&NP strategy has been endorsed by the union’s council, not a “hardcore group within Equity seeking to ban unpaid productions” (Let reality in to low pay/no pay debate, feature, May 30, page 8). Equity represents professional workers, and the law states workers – which is a legal definition with a very specific meaning – must be paid at least the NMW. Where professionals properly establish a collaborative artistic piece as a partnership business venture, some thing Equity has no objection to, those professionals would not be workers and the NMW would not apply. The governing council of Equity is not therefore seeking to ban unpaid productions. It is seeking to ensure workers receive at least the NMW, which the law requires.

Thirdly, changes proposed by HM Revenue and Customs to National Insurance status for entertainers will not in itself deny the right to the NMW (Stage Talk, May 30, page 6). While Equity does not agree with the proposed change and is seeking to amend the ‘one size fits all’ approach of HMRC, it must be remembered that generally in tax matters there is only employed and self-employed status. The NMW is a matter of employment law, which is subject to different definitions, legislation and precedent, and so is unaffected by changes in tax law. There are other tests beyond NI on worker status such as direction, substitution and whether the work is being done personally. An illustration of this point is that in the reported recent case determined by the employment tribunal, where performers were found to be workers (Landmark ruling in fringe pay dispute, May 30, front page), NI was not paid, but this did not form part of the judge’s consideration.

So, the fringe has nothing to fear from Equity. Legitimate collaborative artistic pieces of work can proceed on the fringe on a partnership basis, fringe employers can use the fringe contract based on the NMW (which is unlikely to bankrupt anyone), bogus operators will be held to account and Equity members will be protected.

Stephen Spence
Assistant general secretary
Email address supplied


Our lament for Icarus’ posting

It takes a lot to rile a stage manager; to rile a lot of stage managers takes, to quote Liam Neeson in the film Taken, “a very particular set of skills”.

In a recent posting, the Icarus Theatre Collective stated it was “looking for one dedicated person to fulfil all three positions of assistant stage manager, understudy and assistant director for our professional touring productions”. The fee? It’s £275 a week.

This caused predictable dismay as an insult not only to the professionalism of stage managers, but also to directors and actors. The Stage Management Association and Equity got involved at members’ behest, and Icarus offered certain assurances about the role, and committed to the SMA seeing it in action and offering advice. Icarus then appeared to claim the SMA was now satisfied with the post. This was not the case.

The position was posted on Stage Jobs Pro – run by Blue Compass, which also owns Casting Call Pro – which repeated Icarus’ claim in an email to the stage management councillor.

We believe SJP, which charges its members more than £20 per month, has a duty of care not to post jobs that are both professionally insulting and potentially threatening to health and safety and morale. Though this sort of posting is by no means rare, this was an extreme example.

When Cueline monitored jobs in 2011, only 50% of stage management jobs paid a reasonable wage, and jobs on Equity-recognised contracts and agreements were rare. We believe this balance has worsened considerably.

The response from SJP’s Philip Large was, frankly, unconstructive. We believe the response to complaints was quite aggressive and, in one case, insulting to young professionals starting out in their careers. We don’t believe that SJP has any right to be the judge of a young stage manager’s future career potential.

We welcome the commitment from Icarus to engage actively with the SMA, and hope this will ensure that at least this one company never again posts a job with such a potentially inappropriate workload. Its engagement is to be welcomed, but not the post that created it.

Given that the Equity Annual Representative Conference has just, rightly, unanimously called on the council to prioritise the low pay/no pay campaign in the face of savage arts cuts, is it not time for SJP genuinely to enter the debate? We have heard platitudes from SJP before. It’s time for a real commitment.

We call on Blue Compass to come to the table with Equity and the SMA, and finally to engage in a genuine and constructive debate on its responsibilities in posting jobs. If SJP were to take a lead, who knows where we could go in the campaign against exploitation?

At the moment, charging people for access to ‘jobs’ that don’t pay enough to live on, and often pay less than the national minimum wage, seems simply unfair.

We call on those theatre companies that post unacceptable LP/NP jobs to not only stop insulting our professionalism but also exploiting young people. We also call on SJP to not facilitate and legitimise such postings.

Unless SJP enters this important debate with an open mind, we suggest it is not exercising a good enough duty of care to its customers and ask you to decide – is it worth your money?

Jamie Byron Austin, Adam Burns, Nadia Javed, Melanie Perkins, Graeme Reid and Cal Wyllie
Email address supplied


Schools must be more transparent

Although the focus of Henry Bird’s article (www.thestage.co.uk/supplement/musical-theatre-training) is musical theatre training, I would like to query how seriously Drama UK is taking its claim of providing information.

On its website, administrators of accredited courses are asked to provide answers to highly relevant questions. How many pupils enrolled on the course (ie, at the beginning of the academic year in September)? How many pupils are in each class? How many contact hours does a student have with a tutor? And what is the number of public performances during the final year?

Why are answers to these questions not provided by some ‘member schools’ for their accredited courses? Neither Guildford nor Mountview publish them. In the acting section, no fewer than eight accredited courses at Guildford, Bristol Old Vic (two), LAMDA, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, RADA, Royal Scottish and Oxford bother to record any commitment. What have they to hide? At £9,000 per year, for what is normally a three-year course, it is a tremendous outlay. Prospective students have a vital decision to make, plus a £30-£60 fee for an audition at each school.

I have asked Hilary Hadley and Malcolm Sinclair, who represent Equity on two boards of Drama UK, to press for answers. The response from Drama UK is: “We have asked them to respond.”

But why are the administrators holding back? I understand that each accredited course costs £4,250 to be registered, plus outlay for others. I just hope that Drama UK is not going to be a wealthy quango.

Doremy Vernon
Email address supplied


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