Thursday, August 4, 2011

ARTS POLICY: Unions Worldwide pt. 2

Thanks to everyone who answered my questions about actor's unions worldwide, and their relationship to Fringe Theater. If you recall, my original question was driven because Chris Wilkinson wrote a post that seemed based on the premise that independent theater in the UK coexists well with the British Equity.

Now, I don't have much practical experience, so I'm relying on the British to tell me what it's like. But an anonymous commenter three articles on some recent news. Here's The Stage:

Fringe theatre companies have warned that the sector will be “destroyed” if proposals by Equity seeking to enforce the National Minimum Wage for all actors become law.

Two motions are due to be discussed by the union’s ruling council next week, which, if passed, would represent a significant tightening of its position on actors’ pay.

They have been submitted by Equity councillor Clive Hurst, who is calling for clarification on how profit-share and low-paying fringe theatres fit into NMW guidelines and on the definition of amateur and professional performers.

Again, I don't know what exactly life is like in the UK, but I know that if someone announced passing minimum wage laws here in the United States, it would absolutely kill everyone producing independent work. (Unless we just called them all interns...)

Profit-sharing is an interesting angle -- I don't know if there's much profit-sharing going on in the US independent theater scene -- largely because of the absence of profit.

Further experience is shed by Michael Simkins in the Guardian Online:

In the last production I was involved in, nearly 70% of the cast hadn't bothered to join the union, preferring to save their subscriptions in the hope that the legislation so hard won by previous generations would continue to protect them for free.

Interesting to note that a lot of actors I know aren't in Equity because they simply can't get into it, or because they want to work with independent theater. Those who do join Equity do so in order to get Equity work, or to get Equity health insurance. In England, it seems that the latter of those is not as important because of the NHS.

The union perspective, from Martin Brown for the Guardian Online:

The legislation as it stands gives rights to any individual to make a claim if they think they should have been paid the national minimum wage and were not. Unions do not have the same rights – we can support a claim made by a member, but we cannot initiate one. Any member of Equity who has worked on the fringe and believes they are entitled to make a claim should come and talk to us; if we think the claim is winnable, we will take it on.

But we are doing more than that. For several years now, Equity has been campaigning to encourage fringe producers to up their game and use Equity members in their shows. We can offer them a specially designed fringe contract that is based on the national minimum wage but also recognises the uncertain, cash-strapped and risky nature of fringe theatre.

We think that in the eyes of performers, fringe producers will appear to be more professional if they use proper contracts approved by Equity. In essence, we absolutely support the fringe and want it to thrive, but no one can ignore the implications of the national minimum wage.

I wonder if "if the claim is winnable" has anything to do with the financial status of the fringe producer... anyways, all I get from that column is "We support the Fringe and want it to survive, but the law says that it shouldn't."

I agree that fringe producers appear more professional if they use contracts approved by Equity. No, wait, sorry, they just look more wealthy.

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