The system underpinning the UK TV industry workforce is broken but can still be repaired, according to the leaders of Bectu and the Film and TV Charity (FTVC).
In a webinar hosted by The Talent Manager, FTVC chief Marcus Ryder said “the last few months has exposed some serious flaws” in the TV ecosystem, with both he and Bectu chair Philippa Childs agreeing the industry had become too dependent on a freelancer workforce with too many short-term contracts and not enough protections in a fiercely competitive production landscape.
Ryder noted, however: “It’s not broken in that it’s beyond repair. But there’s a power dynamic that needed to be addressed.” It follows on from FTVC revealing earlier on this year that its hardship grant applications continued to soar as the commissioning slowdown issues affecting freelancers spiked.
He insisted it was the job of the government and regulator Ofcom to look at this issue, rather than bodies like FTVC or Bectu.
“We can’t wait for the glorious day when there is a utopian TV and film industry,” he said. “Broadcasters need to be responsible corporate citizens, you need Bectu to be doing its work and you need people like us to hand out hardship grants and to help people in desperate need.”
He also said the current crisis had highlighted the importance of having a greater understanding of one’s finances, which bodies like Bectu and the FTVC were helping freelancers to deal with.
“In this difficult time, you really need to have a greater level of financial literacy that in almost any other industry, with our short-term issues of productions and long-term issues of boom-and-bust cycles,” he said.
Childs agreed that “the system has proven to be problematic” and suggested an industry body could be established to pair up freelancers with broadcasters to cultivate employment opportunities.
“One of the things we thought about was whether the industry could come together to form a third-party body through which freelancers could be engaged and provide their services to various broadcasters,” she said.
“And if that idea were developed then it could be funded collectively and could provide better support for freelancers. I think that’s something industry could think about doing.”
Noting that lobbying politicians was part of what was required, Childs cited Bectu’s work with the Fabian Society exploring potential models for family-friendly working policies, improved benefits and freelancer-focused pension schemes.
“If some of those ideas were adopted that would give freelancers a more level playing field in relation to rights,” she said.