PACT/BECTU film fee talks critical

A critical point has been reached in the epic negotiations over an agreement to cover freelances in the film industry.

BECTU has told PACT, the independent production companies’ trade association, that if they cannot agree on whether the deal will cover going rates rather than minimum rates, further negotiations would be “pointless”.

Two years of talks

The negotiations have dragged on for over two years. The previous agreement is widely considered ineffective; negotiating a new agreement, establishing a comprehensive framework for freelance terms and conditions that spans low to big-budget productions in all departments is ambitious and complex.

BECTU is determined that, given the scale of this effort, the new agreement must be meaningful.This means using the going rates of pay, particularly on big budget productions. Although BECTU has presented PACT with a sheaf of matters that need to be resolved, it has stressed that the going rates issue has to be addressed first.

Minimum rates investigated

After a meeting between the two sides, in early January Max Rumney, PACT’s director of legal, business affairs and industrial relations, wrote to BECTU assistant general secretary Spencer MacDonald. He requested details on: how a going rate would be calculated; what hours/timings would be included and excluded; whether there would still be budget bands; and how going rates would work within the grades ladders.

On 29 January, Spencer MacDonald responded, emphasising that the minimum rates issue was a bigger problem on inward investment film productions and that minimum rates on lower budget productions did not cause the same level of concern.

A proposal

He [Spencer MacDonald] proposed focusing on major international feature films, which typically contract shooting crews on a 55-hour week, taking this as a starting point and examining three current productions – for example Bond, Mission Impossible and Jungle Book. The rates could be extracted and used to arrive at an average figure.

This figure would not include box money, kit hire or any element apart from the individual’s labour. Most crew members and production managers are aware of what this number looks like. If we start with one or two departments and look at whether this model would work, it may or may not provide us both with a system for taking these talks forward,” he said.

“If anything, we believe this proposal will help validate the going rates as they currently stand on major feature films. If the gap in rates is negligible, we believe this further supports our position. However, if the data proves that individuals are negotiating much better rates on some productions, we are happy to look at this again.”

“We hope PACT is serious”

As BECTU freelances prepared for a meeting in February*, they were awaiting PACT’s response to this suggestion.

Spencer MacDonald reiterated: “If we cannot reach a common position that will make the new agreement work in the real world, then further discussions are pointless. We hope PACT is serious about needing a collective agreement that will be valued by the thousands of people working to it.”

This article first appeared in Stage Screen & Radio, Feb-March, 2015. 

*BECTU members are meeting on Sunday 22 February to review the current situation.

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