The contract covering pay and conditions on commercials shoots
comes up for re-negotiation once every three years. Just as regularly,
the deep divisions between the AFVPA (representing the production
companies) and BECTU (representing the crews) are exposed.
However, the current round of talks threatens to be a tougher battle
than ever before, with Advertising Film and Video Producers Association
members demonstrating a much stronger resolve this time. Talks have
already reached deadlock.
Last time round - in 1996 - the issues were similar to those now under
debate. The AFVPA wanted to introduce new proposals, one of which was to
abolish premium rates of pay for unsociable hours. It argued that the UK
was becoming increasingly uncompetitive and losing work to cheaper
The Broadcasting Cinematograph and Theatre Union came back with a firm
’no’. The organisation got its own way last time, and hopes it will
again, as last week’s vociferous opposition to the latest proposals
’The AFVPA has messed up this time. Our people have said ’no, no, no’
and aren’t prepared to budge,’ Marilyn Goodman, assistant general
secretary at BECTU, says.
Stephen Gash, joint managing director of Stark Films, counters: ’Margins
have been under constant pressure for the past ten years. Crews have
been cushioned against this while production companies have absorbed it,
but now we are saying ’enough is enough’.’
The existing agreement on pay and conditions came up for renewal on 31
July this year. Discussions began in January, with BECTU arguing that
the agreement has worked well up to now and should undergo only minor
tweaks. It claims the AFVPA pulled the plug on subsequent meetings.
’They wouldn’t meet, they wouldn’t talk. It was a difficult period and
it was clear they had another agenda,’ Goodman claims.
They finally met again in September, when the AFVPA announced some
far-reaching proposals, including the introduction of a ten-hour day,
Saturday to be treated as a normal working day, cut-backs on premium
rates and greater flexibility of call times.
BECTU members rejected the package, leading to some concessions from the
AFVPA, including dropping the ten-hour day. However, at the most recent
meeting, two weeks ago, the union once again opposed the move.
’We do want an agreement, otherwise there will be a period of chaos. But
we believe that the current agreement works and is flexible,’ Goodman
says. ’It seems ironic that while Europe is introducing more family
friendly working policies, our members are told that now they could be
working unsociable hours, and still only get paid for a normal working
Under the existing agreement, crews attend and are paid for studio work
from 8.30am, even though they may not be needed until midday, depending,
for example, on the availability of an actor. The AFVPA now wants to
make call times more flexible so that crews can be called later and work
later, without overtime.
’There should be more flexibility regarding call times to make the UK
more competitive. We are not proposing, as some within the union have
suggested, that we want to align ourselves to cheap labour markets but
we do argue that we should be able to compete more effectively with
other primary markets such as the US, Germany and France,’ Cecilia
Garnett, chief executive of the AFVPA, says.
Many in the production industry agree, arguing that crews are pricing
themselves out of the market. ’We shoot a lot overseas because it’s
difficult to budget jobs here when you know you’ll be hammered by the
union. People argue that the best crews are in Britain. I don’t think
the overseas crews are any better or worse, but in virtually every case
they are cheaper and more negotiable,’ Lizie Gower, managing director of
’But it’s not all about money. We simply want to have the kind of
flexibility that agencies are demanding.’
Others have limited sympathy for crews who, they say, are very
well-paid, particularly compared with other sectors such as film and
’I have a degree of sympathy with crews, particularly regarding safety.
However, most shoots are long and tedious rather than dangerous and, as
most crews are freelance, if they do work long hours, they can then
choose to take time off,’ James Studholme, managing director at Blink
It is budgetary pressures, however, which make most production companies
keen to see change.
’As we get more jobs with lower budgets, we end up taking them to places
like South Africa where you can get so much more for your money - and
where you can make very flexible deals on the day,’ Clare Timms, joint
managing director at Union Commercials, says.
Production companies are still conscious of their ’fat cat’ image from
the 80s and insist their desire for change is not about huge profits but
It’s a sensitive issue but a solution is urgently needed, according to
one industry figure. ’Without an agreement, rates will be negotiable on
each job. BECTU doesn’t want that because they want a rate card; they
want to be able to wave a piece of paper.
’It will also mean more complicated and time-consuming work for
production companies who will have to administer each individual job.
We’re in for a very rough ride.’