The Dawn of a New Branch
Call out for Theatre Freelancers to become BECTU Reps - to help form a new branch.
When it comes to our working lives, whether it’s stage, sound, costume, lighting, video, wigs, hair and make-up, props or automation, there’s more that unites us than divides us. We all face similar issues when it comes to our contracts, terms and conditions, getting invoices paid and expenses reimbursed, but the one thing that brings us all together is that we charge a fee or a day rate for our services. We currently don’t really fit anywhere within an existing trade union, and you only need to look at the superior terms enjoyed by freelance colleagues working in film and TV production to see what is possible with a set of union enforced normal practices.
Many of us are already members of our professional associations. However, as active and vibrant as the various professional societies within live entertainment are, brought together under the AAPTLE umbrella, they legally cannot, and should not perform the functions of a trade union. It is vital that going into this post-Covid workplace and beyond that we, as industry workers, have the best mechanisms in place for upholding our rights, and to continue the fight for better pay and terms and conditions, through the vehicles of collective bargaining and solidarity that are available to us.
Historically, some theatre workers haven’t had the best experience with BECTU. Show staff constantly moving between buildings haven’t been best served by the union when between productions and don’t have a home within the union. Theatre freelancers are routinely put into a film and TV branch - even if it’s clear from the application form that we want to be in a theatre branch. However, through concerted efforts from AAPTLE the union does seem willing and keen to engage with theatre freelancers and make changes for the better. Some steps have already been taken, for example in the creation of the new touring branch, which takes the important step of decoupling union branch from geography. Further suggestions have led to the start of a conversation about a nation-wide theatre freelancers branch, covering all theatre workers who work on a fixed fee or day rate basis. This would begin to tackle many of the problems highlighted above, as well as bringing together similar workers from across the country into one, much more coherent, place from which to launch collective demands, which is how unions operate and succeed best.
In a recent meeting with the AAPTLE unions working group, it was highlighted to us that the union is democratic and member-led; if changes are required they need to be proposed and actioned by the membership, whose activity BECTU staff can facilitate. The first step in this is for the membership (us) to put ourselves forward for rep training and wrap our heads around the union’s internal structures and mechanisms, and then begin changing what needs to be changed to move the union forward into the fighting force we need it to be in our sector.
We are encouraging people who want to be actively involved in these industry discussions, to put themselves forward for BECTU rep training and join this ongoing conversation, with a view to being the founding committee of a new branch for theatre freelancers. If this sounds like you, please get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org