Are the working conditions of production staff in factual television a cause for concern? In the wake of Bectu’s Say No To Exploitation in TV campaign, here are three opinions.

Martin Spence, Bectu
When the workforce is signalling in the clearest language that conditions are in need of urgent review we have to listen and, most importantly, the employers have to listen too. In our campaign survey several consistent and worrying themes were revealed. Here are just two: excessive hours without adequate rest time are an established feature of work in Factuals; and the workforce says that health and safety considerations are routinely brushed aside due to ‘lack of time’. These issues are genuine causes for concern and represent shortcomings which could prove costly to the employer if they are not addressed with proper regard for crew welfare.

Anonymous production worker
Limited budgets translate into tighter schedules. What ends up giving is our time – we simply work longer hours for the same fee and quality goes down. This overwork means that the boundaries between work and a personal life are weakened and our personal life suffers. Senior staff can often be dismissive of workforce concerns, not least about health and safety. It’s often the case that on a mixed staff/freelance crew, freelances can be treated shabbily. The employers at fault know that they are hiding behind the insecurity which staff, and in particular freelances, are made to feel. Relying on fear to run your business shouldn’t be a recipe for success.
Liz Warner, CEO, Betty
Working conditions in factual TV are getting tougher mainly due to broadcasters wanting more bang for their buck. Budgets haven’t increased for more than 10 years. 
In real terms budgets have gone down and the demands of the editorial specifications have gone up. Simultaneously, rates for top talent, editors and post production have gone up. Commissioning editors’ expectations more often than not exceed the price for their genre. The budget is the reality check no one wants to face. Factual, features and fact ent are depended upon as genres to bring in prime time ratings as a much cheaper option than drama or entertainment. Broadcasters and indies should be tackling this together to work on realistic budgets with realistic expectations. Indies could do more – by having whistle – blower schemes, for example. Betty has a monthly working group for staff to feedback and encourage a culture of reasonable hours but we know that when it is a shoot or the final week of an edit that extra hours will be incurred.
When money is tight it is often people that provide the elasticity – they stretch – often too far.  We all know we have to put in the hours but to start projects with that as the accepted norm is not healthy.  Bectu do have a point and indies are often too afraid to speak out for fear of losing a key relationship with a broadcaster so brokering a more open dialogue about some of the industry’s concerns is a good thing.

The issue will also be debated tonight at a Bectu debate, with execs including Lion TV’s Nick Catliff, The Garden’s Nick Curwin, Hardcash’s David Henshaw and Al Jazeera’s Diarmuid Jeffreys. Full details here.

Tim Dams

Share this story

Share Televisual stories within your social media posts.
Be inclusive: is open access without the need to register.
Anyone and everyone can access this post with minimum fuss.