CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AFVPA VERSUS BECTU - Producers dig in as the battle against BECTU hits stalemate/The AFVPA believes BECTU needs to re-think its work ethic, Lisa Campbell says

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.

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

climes.



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

indicates.



’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

day.’



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

Academy, argues.



’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

television.



’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

Productions, says.



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

survival.



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.’