30 November 2009

National Minimum Wage and the UK film industry

Recently the UK's broadcasting union BECTU announced the results of an employment tribunal that confirmed 'expenses only' jobs are illegal.

The reason is they fall foul of the UK's National Minimum Wage law. This states that every worker who's on a company payroll should be paid between £3.57 (16-18 years old), £4.83 (18-21s) or £5.80 (for over 22s). And that a worker cannot opt out of being paid.

These days many people break into the UK's film and TVs industry by taking on unpaid work - either as interns or work placements - or crewing films under an 'expenses only' basis (food and travel costs are covered, and little else).

This report has been debated at length at the blog of actor Mickey Bee and through Shooting People's newsletter. Some are saying this is could be the death knell of the British film industry, because less films will get made because producers won't be able to secure enough funds to make their films. Others say it's just going to push producers to be more professional and actually pay their crews. And some claim the ruling is another example of class warfare, a reason why business should be run along Marxist lines, and/or interference from the UK's facist government.

What is concerning people is that crews in every film made in the UK should be paid the National Minimum Wage - it doesn't matter if you're hired to make a showreel or a feature films.

Now I think this ruling will be good for the industry. If HM Revenue & Customs enforce these rules using common sense.

If a producer is making any kind of commercial product - whether a feature film, a TV show, or a web serial - then they should raise the money to pay their crew before work begins. That's something any legitimate and professional producer has to accept and deal with.

However, there seems to be little point investigating and prosecuting a filmmaker who's making a short destined for the short film festival circuit and show reels, and won't see any direct income from it. Especially when their crew is aware they won't see any income from this, beyond travel expenses.

And I really can't see HMRC taking the time to do that. They've got bigger fish to fry. Of course, I have been wrong before.

The only bit of relief in sight is that freelancers aren't covered by these regulations. They can choose to work for effectively nothing, as they are the company they work for. But there is an question over who in a film crew can be classed as a freelancer.

The panic that this news created should calm down soon. But when it
does, hopefully more people will be more aware of what their
responsibilities and their rights are.

1 comment:

  1. NOTE: I received this message from writer/director Andy Ryland. He couldn't post it himself. A fault which I'm looking into.

    So, over to Andy:

    Interesting piece. I think (!) that the NMW being applied to the film industry is a good thing. There is exploitation and a culture of expecting people to work for free, though I think if you are good and self-respecting, you should graduate from expenses work to paid work pretty quickly. And then the pay can be quite good quite soon...

    There is an argument that this ruling will make it harder for new people to get a foot in the door (actors especially), because if you must pay an actual wage, then you may be less inclined to trust a relative newcomer, the way we all must do a lot when making our shorts etc.

    Where the ruling seems counter-productive is in the very low-budget end of things, such as shorts, or those features made fast with a tiny crew. If a group of people love a script and want to help make it, it seems wrong that the government should insist that those people have no right to waive their own wage, regardless of whether they want to. After all, no-one is forced to take an unpaid job, and I don't have much sympathy for those that do and then complain about it. You knew the terms...

    Hopefully as you say it still allows people to work as freelancers setting their rate at £0 per day, when they choose to.


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