Tuesday 2nd June 2020
We had an overwhelming response to the latest Viva La PD survey, conducted last week. Almost 2000 TV freelancers responded to our latest poll. Unfortunately that’s where the good news ends. Because what those 2000 voices told us was that most of them hadn’t worked at all for the last 3 months, and also have no work on the horizon for at least the next 3 months. This leads to the conclusion that freelancers in the industry are facing 6 lost months without work. Sadly what we also found was that now the government’s support schemes are up and running, still 55% are not eligible for help from either the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme or the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
The survey found that just 1 in 10 freelances have worked consistently during the lockdown period, and some have already started selling vital kit that they’d usually hire out to productions, simply so they can pay basic living costs. Given that, the next bit of news comes as no surprise at all – almost 60% of us are considering leaving the industry, have already left, or have taken steps to find a more stable career. This is an upward swing from our last survey conducted 2 months ago, when half of respondents said they were thinking about finding a job in another sector. What we’re now seeing is freelancers putting that into action.
We already knew that this situation has made freelancers think hard about their career, and that there’s a desire to re-think the relationship between those of us who make the programmes, and those who hire us. But we didn’t expect that just 6% would think there should be no change in the way the industry is staffed. That means that 94% want some form of change. This breaks down as half of respondents who want to see a comprehensive review of freelance terms and conditions, 1 in 5 who like the idea of seeing overarching 6/12 month contracts at one company for a fixed term, working across multiple projects; and another 23% would like to see themselves in permanent staff job in TV.
Finally, the immediate future has concerns for freelancers as they look to (hopefully) returning to work. Over four-fifths are worried about job availability as there will be low demand and high supply in the workforce. Three-quarters are anxious of bearing the brunt of the double impact of reduced budgets and excess labour supply by being forced into accepting lower rates. And over half of people are also worried about the triple threat of their own health and safety working under Covdid-19 restrictions, the resulting impact on their mental health and wellbeing, and workload pressures.
To finish off, we’ll leave you with some of the words written directly by those who responded to the survey. We just hope that the #6lostmonths won’t lead onto the industry losing its own workforce…
“I think this has shown how precarious our work is and the impact that has on the mental health of people in this industry is terrifying. It feels like there is no support and we are living in uncertainty. I have felt very disposable and alone and have decided to rethink my career as a result.”
“Both myself and my partner work in the TV industry and we have literally lost all future work. It’s extremely worrying as we have two small children so we can’t just up and leave to a new location for work. It’s such an anxious time and I’ve fallen through the cracks for government help so when our money runs out my family will have to support us.”
“The government policy towards limited companies is grossly unfair. Currently I receive circa £500 a month from the furloughing myself. I have a wife and 5yr old daughter. This is NOT enough to live on. I am extremely worried about the future and it is affecting my mental health.”
“As a mature experienced BAME worker I already face many challenges maintaining a career. I am concerned that the "new" pressures will make diversity even more of an expensive idea and it will be sacrificed.”
“Unless there are major changes within the next month or so, I’ll be leaving the industry. I see nothing actively being done by any production company that will actually protect their freelancers- I guarantee we will be thrown into the wolves with no proper protection in place for Covid- because all of us will be desperate for work so we will take anything.”
Freelancers: fighting for survival
Wednesday 14th April 2020
Freelancers: Fighting for survival is our current campaign. Its purpose is to lobby the government in order to ensure that television freelancers are not left behind by the Coronavirus income support schemes.
Following the near total shut down of our industry in response to the government measures relating to the coronavirus pandemic, the television industry ground to a halt putting thousands out of work overnight. The nature of working as a freelancer means that as soon as you stop working, the money stops coming in – a big problem for an industry made up almost exclusively of freelancers.
When the government eventually announced the support that was going to be on offer for people who were Self Employed, the Viva La PD admins got together and quickly realised that a vast majority of the industry would not qualify for any government help.
Meekly accepting this was not an option. Enter Viva admin James Taylor.
We knew that in order to lobby the government to increase the cap or offer alternative support, we needed evidence to confirm our suspicions; James put together a survey designed to determine exactly who was eligible for any support offered by the government. Within a week we had nearly 1000 responses from across the industry. The data and personal stories were telling: our suspicions were correct and the results showed that just 17% of freelancers were working, and only 1 in 5 were eligible for any financial help from the government’s support schemes. Over half were considering leaving the industry. Worse still; many faced financial ruin.
James then published the results in the Survey Report and sent it to the Treasury and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), and submit evidence to the relevant Select Committee inquiries.
Following its publication, Viva hosted a Q&A with MP Tracy Brabin, the Shadow Minster for Cultural Industries. Tracy offered some great advice and gave a valuable insight into the inner workings at Westminster, and set out her plans for the future regarding the Self Employed. It was encouraging to know that someone in Parliament understands what it means to be Self Employed and how devastating the current situation is to the freelance community.
Watch the Q & A here:
Since then, Viva Admins have met with the DCMS to discuss what can be done to help the people of our industry, and have more meetings lined up with other stakeholders in the near future.
You can read the full report here.
In light of the current pandemic and its adverse effects on the industry, Viva La PD are also currently supporting the industry wide #holdyourrate campaign launched by the Television Freelancers Task Force.
Due to the commissioning budget cuts announced by the broadcasters there is a very real danger that the impact will be felt most strongly by freelancers on the ground.
With budgets slashed there is a fear that freelancer wages will be seen as ‘flexible costs’ and there will be a race to the bottom in order to secure work in a saturated job market. The #holdyourrate campaign is designed to raise awareness of this issue and prevent it from happening through grassroots unity.
It is everyone’s responsibility to stick to their pre-pandemic rate in order to maintain a fair rate for all.
#6for6 was Viva La PD's first major campaign. Its aim was to eliminate the ‘buy out’ contracts which increased in prevalence over the last 10 years. Buy out contracts essentially mean that a production company can make a freelancer work six days per week (rather than the standard five days) for no extra fee.
Typically, a freelancer in TV negotiates a fixed weekly rate based on a five day week but buy out contracts have a clause in them which states that ‘WE CAN MAKE YOU WORK WEEKENDS FOR NO EXTRA PAY’. Often, this was not made obvious by the production company at the time of rate negotiation and it was down to the freelancer to spot the clause or ask – not that it made much difference because overwhelmingly, the production companies would not pay a higher rate for the extra day. It may sound easy for the freelancer to just walk away, but before Viva La PD opened up the conversation around these topics, being a freelance Producer/Director was incredibly isolating – the assumption was that if you didn’t take the job, someone else would. We didn’t openly talk about rates of pay and contract negotiations – and the companies knew that so had a huge amount of power.
We wanted to change that.
Initially these clauses were included in contracts in order to cover productions that needed the occasional extra day doing which was very much the exception to the rule. But as budgets and schedules shrank it wasn’t long before the clause was being abused and entire schedules were being written based on a six day working week, rather than five – at the expense of the freelancer.
This was exactly the kind of thing that Viva La PD was set up to tackle.
An initial survey of our members showed that, overwhelmingly, buy out contracts were the thing that Producers and Directors were most concerned with. What the survey also showed us was that it was not the AMOUNT of work that members had a problem with – if a production needed to be six days a week, then fine. The issue was being asked to do it for free.
Armed with knowledge that so many people had strong feelings around this issue, we opened up the conversation on our Facebook page. Using the hashtag #6for6 we encouraged people to push back or walk away from buy out contracts if the production companies refused to pay the extra day.
Slowly but surely more and more people reported successful negotiations and the community grew increasingly confident. It wasn’t long before there were open discussions about negotiating tactics and rates of pay leading to a collective strength that was brand new to the editorial side of the industry. We were seeing results and for the first time and we felt as though we had the power to make real change.
Today, the fight against six day buy out contracts continues and they’re still out there, but they are few and far between and when encountered (by Viva La PD members at least) they are met with derision and scorn.