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Row escalates as head of UK union Bectu urges members to reject Pact scripted terms

The agreement covers crew working in the independent scripted sector (photo: Unsplash)

The row between UK broadcasting trade union Bectu and producers’ trade body Pact is escalating as both sides struggle to reach agreement on the terms of a new deal for scripted TV productions.

Last week, Pact proposed new terms and conditions for the Pact/Bectu UK TV drama agreement, which covers working terms and conditions for crew in the independent scripted sector.

However, Bectu head Philippa Childs on Monday urged union members to refuse the offer, arguing that it does not adequately distinguish the boundaries between working time and personal time, and lacks the “detail and clarity necessary for our members to feel confident that their concerns have been addressed.”

“We have been clear from the beginning that the updated agreement needs to urgently address the long hours and wellbeing crisis our members are facing,” said Childs.

“The current offer does not do that. Many of the improvements only apply to shooting hours/days, devaluing work done outside filming hours, and there are loopholes that would allow productions to schedule around penalties.”

The proposals will formally be put forward to Bectu members to vote on tomorrow, with voting set to finish on Sunday.

Pact’s offer covered all budget levels up to £7m (US$8.3m) per hour for all scripted genres across the nations and regions. It also proposed a new budget band aimed specifically at very high-budget productions (over £7m per hour).

While Childs said Bectu will continue to engage with Pact to agree a deal that works for both sides, the current agreement, established in 2017, is set to expire in September.

Across the globe, below-the-line workers have been pushing for improved working conditions, especially as the industry has emerged on the other side of the widespread production shut-downs of 2020.

The row between Bectu and Pact is not dissimilar to the dispute between the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents crew members in the US and Canada, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents US studios including Disney, Netflix, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Apple, Amazon and others in labour matters.

IATSE and AMPTP were at an impasse for months over deal terms, leading the former to threaten a strike that would have closed down TV and film sets across North America. With the deadline looming, the strike was narrowly averted and both sides came to terms in October.

Pact’s deputy CEO and director of business affairs Max Rumney responded on Tuesday saying Pact had made a “progressive offer which is a serious attempt to address workplace conditions and the work/life balance. It will be a retrograde step that risks immense damage to TV scripted production in the UK if it is thrown out in favour of Bectu’s proposal to its members which is completely unviable and stands no chance of being implemented on productions.”

“Financial modelling now being done by producers makes clear many productions will not be shot in the UK under the increased costs from Bectu’s alternative proposals – damaging a production ecosystem that has made the UK one of the best places in the world to make television. In many cases, Bectu’s suggested proposals make productions more expensive without addressing work/life balance challenges in the way we believe our key offers do,” Rumney added.

“Bectu terminated the collective agreement which has run since 2017 without a ballot. They are now going to ballot only after we asked them to do so, but are also putting forward their own proposals unilaterally. They claim to still want a collective agreement, but if Pact’s offer is rejected, there will be no collective agreement after September 1 and no transparency or certainty on terms of work. Everyone – broadcasters, streamers, crew as well as independent producers who have been negotiating in good faith – will lose if that happens. Bectu is playing a dangerous game.

“We have worked very hard to meet the concerns of Bectu point by point. If there is any lack of clarity on any part of our offer, they only need to ask. We are urging their members to accept the new offer and work with us to continue progress on workplace conditions.”


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