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Topic: Equity Lo/No Pay Working Party
Posted : 06/07/12 / Views : 3167 / Replies : 23 /
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Lee Ravitz
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This is by way of a shout-out to all interested members of Equity (unfortunately, if you're not a member of Equity, you probably won't be able to log in to see the report sadly) regarding the recommendations that have been passed by Equity as the result of a working party held to discuss the issue of lo/no pay within the industry. I sat on this working party with the attitude that it was vitally important for the Union to be grappling with these issues (which it has been neglecting for too long), and am proud to say that the Equity Council actually stood by all the recommendations made in the working party's report. These are still really only guidelines (and a bit of a drop in the ocean, in many ways) but I still think it's important to recognise that the Union has begun to at least move towards tackling some of the questions that exercise us so regularly on these forums. Hopefully, we may even see improvements emerging in the fringe/lo pay sectors of the industry if certain developments follow through in the long run.

Equity itself will probably have posted you an email (as it posted me one, even though I sat on the party!), so I suspect my post is a bit otiose, but I always think these things may be of more interest with a personal recommendation. I am also assuming that if the deliberations are freely downloadable, there's no confidentiality surrounding the issue anymore. The basic recommendations are carried in the Council Report for 21st February at https://www.equity.org.uk/documents/council-report-21-february-2012/, and that document contains a further link to the actual report drawn up by the working party, which contains some more detail on some of the interesting ideas that were discussed, and some intriguing appendixes, including some details on HMRC and its relationship to film schools.

There is also an interesting set of developments happening within Equity at the moment regarding the development of a (working!) 'online branch' in connection with a redevelopment of the entire union structure that might significantly alter relationships with the union (for the better, let's hope) for the computer literate amongst us. As yet, it's very early days for this, but I hope to be able to bring some suggestions to bear on these developments as well. If anyone would like to PM me with suggestions for what they might like to see developing from a potentially revamped Equity web presence, let me know, and I will try to pass on recommendations to the tech providers.

Lee.
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Reply #1
Posted : 24/02/12
Thank you Lee. For sharing this very positive information. I have asked questions about Equity in the public domain before, and I was inspired with the frank, honest and brave replies from all quarters.

I hope you and all involved in this process, at this time, continue to make progress.
Reply #2
Posted : 24/02/12
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Dan Gregory
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Thanks Lee.
Reply #3
Posted : 25/02/12
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Simon Dunmore
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Dear Lee,
Please would you email me directly?
For reasons I only half-understand this website won't allow me to PM you.
All the best,
Simon
Reply #4
Posted : 27/02/12
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Linda Large
136 posts
last on: 31/07/14
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Thanks Lee. It's good to know Equity is getting to grips with the important issue of low/no pay. This affects every single one of us.
Reply #5
Posted : 26/04/12
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Clive Hurst
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It seems that everything I asked for in 2009, rejected by the then Equity Council, has now at last, been taken on board!

Click: http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/35960/equity-launches-low-pay-no-pay-campaign
Reply #6
Posted : 26/04/12
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Lee Ravitz
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As to that, I have no idea why Council have altered their approach. Perhaps they have finally seen the writing on the wall (and, in a few instances since 2009, we may have seen more amenable Councillors elected - although from what I am told, Council remains quite intractable and obscurantist on many levels). Perhaps it is simply that the Working Party was felt to represent a fully constitutional cross-party consensus on the issue, and the suggestion that most reforms should be taken up by Council was surprisingly unanimous once the debates were over within the working party.

It is worth noting that, in my opinion, these resolutions remain positive guidelines in the right direction - many are not as strongly termed as many members would like - and some of the most pressing issues were ones that divided opinion so much (such as trying to institute regulations on the Fringe) that no actual agreement was reached or resolution passed. The significance of the working party appears to me to be that a) it demonstrated that many different members of the profession - young actors starting out, directors, stage managers, older jobbing actors, those who run collaborative companies and so on, are *all* recognising that intolerable conditions have come to prevail at the lower end of the current industry: we are not isolated in these opinions on the CCP forums and b)Equity as a union, perhaps because of important shifts in the Presidency etc., or maybe because of longer term trends, is finally beginning to recognise that lo/no paid work actually stands as legitimate, if degraded, work for those attempting to find their way in the profession. During the past twenty years, even getting an acknowledgment that non Equity work was to be considered 'legitimate', let alone that it was a pressing need to regulate the spread of such work on members' behalf, was a losing battle.

There are, of course, for those who pay attention to these things, shakeups in Equity structure being heatedly discussed at the moment that would, if implemented, totally revise the way in which the union functions in relation to its membership, and are (in comparative terms at least) probably the most radical proposals to be made in regards to the union for 20-30 years. The question for us remains whether the new changes will serve to empower our voices further, or whether they will actually threaten progress in such areas as lo/no pay discussion by rendering it of too peripheral a concern. For this reason, I'd urge anyone who considers themselves to be interested in the democratic accountability of the union to be keeping an eye on reports that have derived from the Financial Stability Working Party (the proposed new reforms are said to have emerged in the first instance because of the need for Equity to tighten purse strings and reduce expenditure, but are actually much more wide reaching, concerning abolition of proliferating committees, replacement with specific industrial committees including, for instance,a dedicated screen committee for the first time, reduction of Council numbers, more forceful election guidelines, encouragement of greater online decision making and networking and so on). Whether or not mass reform will go through, will proceed in an attenuated form or will be defeated, is a process that has been stalled for the moment because final decisions have been deferred until at least this year's Annual meeting. However, it is certain that the issues surrounding these developments will be the biggest topic of debate at this meeting this year, and all Equity members are eligible to attend should they wish. Let's hope that we collectively keep Equity on the right track, continuing to prioritise the problem of lo/no pay issues, and not simply allowing the officers to resolve that they have 'dealt with' it.
Reply #7
Posted : 22/05/12
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Dan Gregory
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If you are on Facebook take a look at this!!!
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=351948478194055&set=a.225432024179035.64781.106881459367426&type=1&theater
Reply #8
Posted : 22/05/12
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Lee Ravitz
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Well, quite, Dan! That Facebook group, by the way, for anyone who clicks on the link, is a pretty good community devoted to highlighting issues of 'no/lo pay' when they are being discussed in the media, and worth subscribing to, in my opinion.

Naturally, a budget that is a couple of years out of date is not necessarily representative of what is happening here and now, but Equity are well aware in general that the amount of revenue the film schools generate from their students is in no way reflected in their outlay on supporting actors who come to assist in the making of student films! There was considerable discussion of this during the lo/no pay party, and it was a discussion that I contributed to quite heavily, as it's close to my heart.

The main difficulty that Equity appears to have with it all is that, if there is any validity at all in the exemption that most film schools claim - namely, that they operate for legal and tax purposes as charities, hence employ only volunteers and not workers on projects (the legal distinction is important), then there is no actual requirement for them to pay those who render services to them (unless this is at student discretion). For some years, I didn't think that there was any legal standing to this argument, because I misinterpreted something Tim Gale (Equity's legal officer) told me - but it appears that, in fact, there may be a basis for the exemptions.

Of course, the counter-argument is that there is no reason the film schools should be considered charitable if outside workers are engaged on the basis of any kind of contractual agreement, which is presumably constituted every time a student offers an actor a job. From this perspective, we are workers and owed at least NMW every time we're engaged. It remains a grey area which HMRC would really need to rule on in order for an answer to prove definitive, and so Equity continues to press the idea of bringing test cases for infraction of NMW if it can. HMRC was recently said to be more amenable to Equity's side of the debate, because they want to make sure that the film schools are paying their way in a time of recession, but, in truth, no-one knows quite which way any formal ruling would go. Until that time, the position remains uncertain.

The actual final recommendations in respect of the film schools were a little watered down, in my opinion: in the sense that they didn't suggest anything other than that Equity continue to uphold a commitment to monitoring the schools' behaviour and engaging in dialogue with them...but all the more reason that we should be flagging up and disseminating things like these accounts, I suppose.

As a final point, it is interesting that, if the Equity restructure goes ahead, there will be an entirely new Committee devoted to Screen work. Equity seems to have singularly ignored setting up any significant bodies to deal with screen issues over the last twenty years or so, and this new move to recognise how much a part of modern acting life working for screen is, is to be welcomed. It may be that with a dedicated screen committee in place this sort of monitoring of film schools can be made much more active. But even this may take a couple of years before it achieves results.
Reply #9
Posted : 24/05/12
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Philip Simon
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This a really fantastic thread and I totally agree with all the arguments being put forward.

Actors need to be able to work at minimum wage, but where possible since we are freelance & self-employed I believe that minimum wage should be higher than the national minimum wage to take into account the associated costs of going to work, including travel, health care, loss of holiday pay, etc.

I am standing for Equity Council in the forthcoming elections in June and this is a campaign I am really interested in getting further involved with. We've all taken jobs we knew paid less than was fair, and I want to see an end to that on all levels.

Please like my Facebook page below and share your thoughts with me. This is not a battle that can be fought alone, and I welcome any and all feedback on how to improve the situation for us all.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Philip-Simon-is-standing-for-Equity-General-Council/352636844792269
Reply #10
Posted : 24/05/12
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Dan Gregory
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Perhaps a "Living Wage" is more appropriate than a Minimum wage, but I like your statement and also the "regardless of age" bit ;-))
I have liked you on FB. Please fight for the online branch if you get elected.
Will set about filling in my ballot ASAP
Reply #11
Posted : 24/05/12
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Philip Simon
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You are so right about the living wage rather than a minimum wage Dan, and I'm actually chatting with someone about this at the moment who doesn't seem to get that point so much. The reality is that as an actor my 'fee' often doesn't really include official holiday pay, health cover, pension contribution (for which I am a member of the Equity Pension Scheme).

I know arguments can't be as black and white as that but realistically we are a profession that deserve to work with the same rights that other workers have, and I appreciate your support in the upcoming election.

I look forward to communicating more with you on this and other topics.
Reply #12
Posted : 25/05/12
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Mark Kempner
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last on: 30/07/14
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Regulars will know my views on all this NMW no pay situation well enough!

Well done to Lee and all the others on the Equity working party committee...they are working very hard "unpaid" for the rest of us Equity members. Glad its gradually inching forward....this working party is no doubt up against some very "set in their ways" Equity top council stalwarts...though the names mentioned seem to be behind all these proposed improvements. I really do hope some of this comes into practice sooner than later.

As I have stated many times in the past, I also agree with the notion the NMW should not be a benchmark for an actors wage.....I actually think that sets a risky and very low pay standard for other work inc TV and Film. I appreciate there are Equity agreements but we all know how much they are stuck too these days.

The bottom line is Equity, like any Union, is only as strong as its membership are prepared to make it. If you are reading this as a non Equity member simply to save a yearly union membership fee, but still feel strongly, then shame on you!

Working for nothing and then complaining about "how I was treated" in the rants and raves department on casting website which actually advocates NO PAY work - does not exactly get my sympathy I am afraid.

I know there is a demand for no pay work....and of course certain unpaid opportunities are worthwhile if they are thoroughly fair all round, carefully contracted etc ....but some of the Jobs allowed to make the casting boards make me roar with laughter and some...make me spit blood and should no way be allowed on the site!

Up the workers!!

Best to all.
Reply #13
Posted : 25/05/12
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Linda Large
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Mark and I have agreed on this issue before -- NMW is not meant for actors. Granted, at the moment there is only NMW that can be used as a basis for wage demands so Equity has no choice but to use that legislation -- but we need to be careful what we wish for.
NMW is for employees whose time can be measured. Who is going to measure the amount of time actors work? OK, time on set/in rehearsal/in theatre should be easy to measure, but what about the other jobs we all have to do, like learning lines, doing research, practising skills? As for charitable status: its abuse is rife. Film schools aren't the only companies guilty of this abuse. For example, in the case of a corporate film made to support a charity, who is the actor's employer? Is it the charity, or the production company? Is the actor a volunteer or a worker? It's a legal minefield.
Actors aren't the only ones working for nothing and the unfairness of the current system of "volunteering" is becoming more topical. Enforced volunteering is very different to working on a collaboration with a bunch of friends. I believe Equity understands these differences but I know that they're bound by the law, just like everybody else. Equity and other representative bodies need to campaign continually to counter unfair practices carried out by so-called charities. We shouldn't be surprised by the current wave of "volunteer" jobs: it was part of the Tory manifesto at the last general election (aka The Big Society).
Reply #14
Posted : 25/05/12
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Philip Simon
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I think both Mark and Linda's post are incredibly potent and relevant. As actors how we measure our time is not at all like any other job where workers can down tools at the end of the day and not think about their job, let alone work on it during their downtime at home.

I have often done jobs where the entire fee was bulked together including fee and buyout and that was supposed to cover holiday pay, etc, but what about health care, pension contributions, etc? I still have to pay for those, and even if you get a nice buyout for a commercial job, the 'hourly rate' can;'t be quantified fairly as there are too many elements to take into consideration.

This is just one of the reasons I am standing for Equity Council. I want to get involved. I want to take my arguments and yours to council and see a real difference made to our industry, not just in this area, but in all fields.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Philip-Simon-is-standing-for-Equity-General-Council/352636844792269?notif_t=page_new_likes
Reply #15
Posted : 25/05/12
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Lee Ravitz
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Hi Philip,

I commend you on your choice of standing for Council. I don't know how well integrated you are into Equity infrastructure, but Council has a reputation for being an extremely sluggish and recalcitrant body, and so, any voices we can bring to bear on it which are a) defending the rights of the 'jobbing actor' over against those of the 'establishment' and b) bringing new blood to the discussions around the table are to be welcomed. Council surprised us recently by passing all the lo/no pay recommendations unopposed and this may be an indicative sign that the power of the old guard is beginning to slacken, and new initiatives are starting to be launched, with new voices coming to be heard around the Council table.

At the same time, it would appear that the current motivation for the restructuring of the union's internal workings has been partially spurred by the realisation that Council's way of orchestrating union policy is outmoded and incapable of swift adaptation, and there are, consequently, going to be significant changes to the way it constitutes itself within the next couple of years. So, you never know, you may have to be standing for re-election before you know it - it's a time in flux for the union!

I am a little hazy on what you hope might be done about your recognition for the payment of a 'living wage' (as Dan called it). Are you hoping to raise awareness concerning it? I say this, not because I fail to appreciate where the initiative is coming from, but because I'm not sure what's being advocated. If calls for actors to be paid NMW *have* increased in recent years, this is not because anyone with any standing in Equity (not least the officers of the union) actually wants to see NMW payments established as a benchmark form of payment. As Linda very effectively put it, the 'call' for NMW (such as it is) is used solely as leverage, in the sense that the right to be paid NMW if you are a contracted worker is non-contestable in legal terms.

As far as I can see, Equity, in an attempt to respond to growing pressure from grass roots members to get something done to 'regulate' fringe, low paid film etc., accepts that this is simultaneously a huge problem for the modern industry (or, at least, some members of Equity do!) and also very difficult to respond to in an effective way. As far as I understand this, since the decline of the closed shop in the early 90's, Equity no longer holds a remit to control the rates the market levels, and any suggestion of boycott risks shading into illegality. The current strategy is, therefore, to encourage a variety of responses to lo/no pay problems that may do something to strengthen Equity's hand - for instance, there is a degree of interest in seeing a new Fringe Network set up as an employers association by interested fringe theatres, who will then follow established codes of conduct overseeing all work performed in their particular venues, a campaign to lobby government and the Arts Council more solidly to protest the ever lessening amounts of funding being made available to smaller companies, and to demand that all subsidised companies be required to pay actors or to be considered in default of their funding and so on.

NMW 'demands' are part of the same overall strategy of response (in a situation when the fact that the closed shop is illegal, and that the free market operates, constrains most responses). Because an actor defined as a worker is legally entitled to NMW by the law of the land, not to be paid this is (tecnically) actionable in court. And the working theory goes that, should a NMW Test Case be mounted against an employer, go in the actors' favour and so on, then this will raise awareness, set precedent and cause employers to rethink the impunity with which they fail to pay actors generally. It may also shift HMRC towards a more defined position in terms of upholding actors' rights. But this is only a theory, and no test cases are ever brought, so it remains moot.

Many actors, probably rightly, are concerned that too many small 'graduate type' companies with no funding are caught between the anvil of needing to get themselves publicised in order to further their careers and the hammer of Equity becoming increasingly draconian in demanding the absolute need for them to pay their participants, and there is consequently much debate about what constitues a stage 'partnership' or 'collaboration' (which can be defined as an equal relationship) and what should be defined as an 'employer-employee' relationship: also, whether there is a distinction between 'willing' and 'unwilling' exploitation - and whether that means anything in legal terms. I don't think there is anyone of note in Equity who doesn't think that anyone who is funded should be paying the actors at formally agreed rates, because it should be a precondition of receiving the funding in the first instance!

Dealing with the screen arena seems to be much less effective for Equity - and I can only assume this is because there has, historically, been such an emphasis on stage work in this country, and the union has consequently lost the initiative with the vast majority of screen producers. The idea that there *is* even a large screen market to regulate in the UK is 'recent' as well - a renaissance in film making that's about 20 years old, a growth in advertisements that's about 30 years old, and a growth of 'new media' that's barely a decade old. I would hope that once the restructing has gone ahead and a formally constituted Screen Committee been elected, this lack of initiative may begin to shift, as focus begins to be placed more effectively on Equity negotiating with screen partners. Still, if there is one area of the industry where rates are defined as a law unto themselves, it would appear to be in the world of advertising and commercials: Equity frequently, in fact, finds its demands in this area challenged by PACT, who negotiate on behalf of the producers, so effectively pitting trade association against trade association.

I am not quite sure where all of that leaves an (entirely sensible) call for recognition that actors be paid a 'living wage', but am keen to hear more!
Reply #16
Posted : 06/06/12
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Philip Simon
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Hi Lee

Thank you for your response and apologies for taking so long to reply.

I admit freely that despite having been a member for over a decade I have not been involved as I should have, but this is mainly due to a lack of outreach from the union. For instance, a peer recently revealed that she did not even know there was a local branch to which she had access. This is why I am starting to focus so much on recruitment and retention as part of my commitment to the industry. I agree with you entirely that what the union needs is fresh blood and though I am not the youngest member running, I am in that category, which at the age of 33 is shameful.

My understanding of the NMW argument is clearly not as deep as yours and I have no intention of trying to blag my way through an answer just to win an election. If I'm the wrong person for the job then so be it, but so long as the right questions are being asked I think that is most important and for that I thank you for your comments, which have given me a great deal to think about. I want to ask the questions and make sure we are constantly battling to make sure we are employed at a fair rate of pay for the work we do and the usage of that work.

I also want to make sure we don't limit smaller producers who can't afford to pay actors from working. My bottom line should be that if someone is making money then the actors should also be making money. No-one wants to hear of a producer who is getting away with paying the venue, the crew, taking a profit themselves, but not paying the actors, yet for some reason it is always us who is at the end of the queue. There are very few industries that would be allowed to go into production without a full business plan that would include paying their staff, so why is this so different with actors, just because some believe us to be a vocation rather than a profession.

I look forward to one day being able to sit in on these meetings where decisions are debated and agreed upon, and hopefully making sure that the old guard of the current and past Equity councils has new life breathed into them to start the battle afresh.

Regards

Philip
Reply #17
Posted : 06/06/12
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Lee Ravitz
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Hi Philip,

Thanks for the reply. It is good to get your perspective on things, which I think reflects a lot of the feelings that most of us on these forums tend to have. Equity is supposedly going to be moving towards a more 'competitive' form of canvassing for election in the near future, so statements of intent of this sort may become ever more important in securing votes. This may be a good thing for the members of the union, who may by this means get to know more about (and so generate more support for) candidates - Equity were shocked as a whole to discover the very poor numbers that participated in the last round of elections - which, at least in part, seemed to indicate how detached from candidates and disinterested in voting many members had become recently.

With that said, I have a fear that we may actually see a coming time where Equity's voting procedures will ensure that it is candidates with the biggest resources and connections (and so, very much 'establishment' voices) who will be able to make votes count for them, and that could make getting the 'grass roots' voice heard an even more difficult proposition than it is currently. We don't want to lose the momentum we are starting to gain.

Equity are moving towards scrapping specialist committees (which have only a partial use, but represent, for example, interest groups like 'independent theatre') and instituting much more widely based committees (Screen, Stage etc.) with much wider remits, and lesser numbers of places for candidates. They will reduce the number of candidates who can stand for Council, too. This is, in some ways, a much needed streamlining that may serve to make the union more efficient and relevant - but it may also serve to make it harder for the 'jobbing actor' to be heard as less places will be available for us to take up on Equity bodies, and they will be more powerfully contested.

For this reason, I think it's very important that we all tend to support the candidates on the ballot paper who are going to stand up for our particular brand of market interest - grass roots actors who are interested in addressing the problems of lo/no pay, fringe regulation, budget filmmaking and so on, that affect most of us daily. It is a sad truth that even well intentioned West End stalwarts sat on Equity Council tend not to appreciate these problems very well, and a real truth that many have no desire to even *acknowledge* the issues that face the jobbing actor. It is also a pity that many of those who might offer grass roots election campaigns most support aren't actually Equity members (so they hold no vote that counts!). The good news is that something seems to be shifting in terms of Equity's overall approach to the profession in the last couple of years - a sense of recognition - following about 20 years' worth of 'readjustment'- that things need to change in the way the union responds to the industry, that the needs of the majority of actors are different to those held several decades before and so on. The passage of lo/no pay recommendations may be a small indication of this. But there is still a vast amount of work to be done, a big potential shakeup in the way Equity does business in the offing, and we don't want to lose the initiative that we are just starting to gain.

So, I would certainly say that all Equity members who care about the continuance of these types of campaigns - those that highlight and make the union sit up and take notice of 'breadline' acting concerns- should be getting behind candidates like yourself, Philip, who are determined to field the right questions. Council elections should allow the opportunity to vote for a number of candidates, I believe, and so for members to pay attention when it comes time to vote, to those who are going to fight for improved conditions at the lower end of the market is in all our interests. It is our collective voting muscle that can get more voices of this sort onto Council and that, in turn, makes Equity better able to handle the issues we want it to.

I wish you all the very best with the further campaign, Philip.
Reply #18
Posted : 08/06/12
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Dan Gregory
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Got my ballot papers today. Make sure you have received yours. Don't forget to vote.
Reply #19
Posted : 12/06/12
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Clive Hurst
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Just to let you all know...

Equity & Bectu have a meeting set up for next week, with Employment Agency Standards (EAS). On the agenda amongst other things, is the NMW.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), I have today tabled a number of questions to the government - on such issues.

Click:
http://www.facebook.com/clive.hurst1/posts/4036629275508

***:~))
Reply #20
Posted : 04/07/12
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Dan Gregory
370 posts
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http://x2t.com/157770
Reply #21
Posted : 04/07/12
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Lee Ravitz
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To provide context for Dan's link, this is an article that Spotlight are running based on opinions given by Stephen Spence, Equity's Assistant General Secretary, who sat in and advised during the meetings of the Lo/No Pay Working Party. Although some may find his defintions add up to the fact that there is only *so* much Equity can currently do in the area of lo/no pay, I think it is an excellent summation of the position that the Union holds towards the legality of lo/no pay work, and, generally, of the consensus reached during the working party. Well worth reading if you are confused by the legal issues surrounding the question of whether or not you are entitled to pay for your work in various situations.
Reply #22
Posted : 06/07/12
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Dan Gregory
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Old Vic stopping internships
http://x2t.com/158150

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