Bectu, the union representing UK film and TV workers, has today launched a campaign to establish an agreed set of terms and better regulation of working practices for UK freelancers working in unscripted television.
The union is calling for urgent action on the industry’s long hours culture, freelancer health and safety and mental wellbeing. Find out more about the campaign here.
An open letter penned by a Bectu member to UK broadcasters and production companies has gained over 1100 signatures in under a week. It calls for standardisation of employment conditions across the unscripted sector, including a maximum 10 hour working day on shoots, scheduled rest breaks, and protections to ensure freelancer rates are not reduced to supplement production budgets.
The union has also launched an Unscripted Action Network, open to members and non-members working in unscripted TV. TV workers can sign up here.
The UK unscripted sector is seeing an increase in commissions, however, skills shortages and retention problems are well established, largely driven by long hours and resulting poor work/life balance.
A recent report from industry body ScreenSkills highlights the challenges in recruiting and retaining production and editorial personnel, and makes clear that urgent action is needed to address the skills shortage.
The Film and TV Charity’s latest ‘Looking Glass’ report, which assesses mental health and wellbeing in the industry, shows that 60% of workers surveyed are considering leaving the industry.
Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “For too long, freelancers working on unscripted TV programmes have battled unsustainable working hours, insecure employment and struggled to maintain a work/life balance. Many are at the point of burnout and considering leaving the industry they love.
“Bectu is calling on the industry to prioritise and invest in those who are critical to its success – the thousands of talented freelancers who are the lifeblood of the UK’s thriving TV production sector. We will be engaging with the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television, production companies and UK broadcasters to collaboratively tackle these issues and establish an agreed set of terms and conditions.
“Our members are highly skilled and dedicated to their profession and they deserve to have their work hours appropriately compensated and to be able to sustain a family life and wellbeing.”
Production Executive and co-Chair of Bectu’s Unscripted TV Branch Viki Carter said: “The support for the open letter echoes what our members have been telling us – that working conditions in our part of the industry are unacceptable. That’s true whether you’re working on location or behind the scenes prepping and setting up shoots.
“Too often production and editorial teams are working long before the crew start and after they’ve wrapped – whether that’s runners setting up shoots, production colleagues still filming, or long hours in the office because a schedule that should’ve had 6 weeks prep has been cut to 4 to fit the budget.
“Freelancers are critical to our industry – nothing gets made without them and they’re asking to be heard. It’s time the broadcasters and the indies started listening.”
Producer-Director in unscripted TV and Bectu member Anna Collins said: “Like many unscripted freelancers, I had a particularly bad experience with a production company last year, which really highlighted the lack of protection for freelancers.
“I absolutely love my job, and I am always willing to put in additional hours when needed. However, in such a casual working environment, it’s become common practice to exploit freelancers – our time and skills are expected to supplement poor budgets. We are often treated as disposable; contracts are cancelled last minute with no consideration or compensation for loss of earnings.
“Our industry is fun and unique, but that doesn’t mean it should also be lawless, inequitable, and unprofessional.”
Series Producer and co-Chair of Bectu’s Unscripted TV Branch James Taylor said: “I have had countless freelancers working in unscripted TV come to me saying enough is enough and they are done with being treated like a second-class citizen.
“We stand ready to engage with broadcasters and production companies to enact the necessary changes to ensure our industry continues to thrive.”
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