CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BECTU NEGOTIATIONS; Is Bectu fighting for a standard that is untenable?

Is Bectu unrealistic about maintaining weekend pay rates? Emma Hall reports

Is Bectu unrealistic about maintaining weekend pay rates? Emma Hall

reports



Is it reasonable to expect extra pay for working weekends and bank

holidays? The Advertising Film and Video Producers Association thinks

not.



Last week, it announced its intention to abolish premium rates of pay

for unsocial hours (Campaign, 15 March). Not surprisingly, the

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union does not

accept the proposed change.



The two organisations, which are negotiating the renewal of contracts on

conditions of work and pay, have reached a hostile stalemate. The

dispute threatens to bring the commercials production business to a

halt.



Marilyn Goodman, the supervisory official of the London production

division of Bectu, criticises the AFVPA for jeopardising the goodwill on

which the industry thrives.



Goodman says: ‘It is a tough industry, everyone works long hours and we

need the goodwill. Nobody wants industrial action, but we already have

the worst conditions in Europe - we are the lowest paid and work the

longest hours.’



But is the money that bad? Cecilia Garnett, the chief executive of the

AFVPA, says not. Even the most junior worker, Garnett insists, gets

pounds 300 for a Sunday. ‘It is not about protecting profit margins,’

she says. ‘It is about being competitive. The UK must fall into line

with the rest of Europe.’



Part of the problem is practical - stars and locations are often only

available outside normal working hours, making costly weekend shoots

necessary. At times these are taken abroad to save money, depriving UK

crews of the work.



Mark Hanrahan, the head of TV at Saatchi and Saatchi, is currently

organising a shoot located in a supermarket. He took the work to Spain

to avoid the problems of weekend rates in the UK. He is fully behind the

AFVPA.



Hanrahan says: ‘Premium rates have always been one of those annoying,

quirky things about filming in the UK, and it is about time we joined

the 20th century. I can’t believe it has taken so long for this change

to make the agenda.’



One worry is that cutting weekend rates will lead to sloppy working

practices because production teams become less worried about running

over time, leading to an increase in weekend shoots.



But Simon Delaney, the managing director of D-Films, says unsocial

working hours are not a problem, even on the Continent. Delaney has

completed many jobs in Europe, and says he has only once worked on a

weekend.



Delaney believes the whole dispute is misguided, because the issue is

not black and white. ‘It is out of sync with the times. People do deals

all the time now, with producers coming to an arrangement with crews

beforehand if unsocial hours look inevitable. Nobody wants to work

weekends out of choice, people have lives to live and football teams to

support.’



These individually-negotiated deals usually end up offering crew members

a lump sum, which equates to somewhere in-between the premium rate and

the flat rate.



Mike Wells, the managing director of Helen Langridge Associates, sees

both sides of the argument, and also advocates a flexible approach. He

says: ‘It is not unreasonable to work weekends if you are still doing

only five days out of seven - the days are long-gone when crew members

were seen in church on a Sunday.’



But many members of Bectu are angry about the proposed withdrawal of

premium pay. An anonymous letter has been circulated to production

companies, stating: ‘This is a harmful strategy...we will be pressured

into shooting at weekends, and there is nothing more depressing and

anti-social.’



While Delaney thinks the problem is probably ‘a storm in a teacup’,

Wells fears that a stand-off may be inevitable and given the

intransigence of the AFVPA and Bectu, does not see how the two will find

common ground.



Garnett proposes that if no settlement is reached, the current agreement

should continue unchanged after its renewal date of 1 July. This would

deprive Bectu members of the improvements they have already negotiated,

and effectively block the pounds 8 per day pay rise on offer.



But this situation is unacceptable to Bectu’s Goodman, who complains:

‘Garnett promotes the UK production industry as the most cost-effective

in Europe, so why is it necessary to bring costs down?’



Bectu’s grumbles find no sympathy with Saatchis’ Hanrahan. He maintains:

‘The union is fronted by people with extreme opinions, and if the whole

country adopted that attitude, it would come to a standstill. You

shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that many Bectu members make a lot of

money.’



If no agreement is reached, industrial action is the inevitable result.

However, the AFVPA seems to have the upper hand as the industry is not

fully unionised. Bectu has about 1,500 members in the commercials

sector, but production companies could probably find non-union staff to

work on jobs. A strike, however, would cause huge problems.



In the end, Bectu members stand to lose the most, by making themselves

less employable within the global industry, especially when production

budgets are coming under attack from all areas.



Hanrahan speaks for many of his peers when he says: ‘We are fully behind

any change that will create an increased amount of work, and it can only

be a matter of time before daily rates are standardised in the UK.’



Leader, page 27



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