Freelance frustration

Royal Shakespeare Company's Dream, February 2021 set-up shots.
19 Oct 2023

Arts Council England’s call for freelancers to participate in yet another survey has been met with anger and dismay by the freelance workforce, for reasons Chrissie Tiller explains.

Crisis grant scheme for theatre workers launches

Display of tin soup and packet soup inside Morrisons supermarket located in the town of Cromer, Norfolk, England
02 Nov 2023

Royal Theatrical Fund says it does not want people in the industry to be unable to feed themselves or their family during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Renewed calls for freelance commissioner

Image of parliamentary committee room with culture leaders giving evidence to MPs
19 Sep 2023

Culture, Media and Sport Committee hears from sector leaders that more joined-up thinking is required to address precarity of creative freelancers. 

Third of UK musicians earn less than £14k

Two cellists performing in public
11 Sep 2023

First census of UK musicians highlights the challenges of a career in the music industry, with low earnings proving a career barrier for many and significant numbers struggling to support their families.

Hollywood strike action hits UK film and TV crews

07 Sep 2023

A survey commissioned by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu) suggests that industrial disputes in the US are having a significant adverse effect on the UK’s film and TV workforce.

The union questioned nearly 4,000 freelance film and TV workers in this country about the impact strike action by American writers and actors has had on their employment, finances and mental health.

Three-quarters of the survey respondents reported currently not working, and 80% said their employment had been directly impacted by the US industrial disputes.

Over a third of participants said that they are struggling to pay household bills, rent or mortgages, while 90% said that they were worried about their financial security, 

Nearly a quarter said they did not see themselves working in the industry in five years' time.

Commenting on the survey results, the head of Bectu, Philippa Childs, said, “Much of the rhetoric surrounding the US dispute is about the actors, but as our survey shows, the impact on crew and other film and TV workers is severe and cannot be underestimated.

“This is a workforce that has already faced incredible hardship throughout and following the pandemic and has now been hit by a second crisis in just a few years. 

“Many of our members have been laid off from productions under ‘force majeure’ clauses with little notice or pay, and with 6 in 10 respondents telling us they are struggling with their mental health, it’s clear the impact also extends beyond financial insecurity.

“For too long, we have seen a pattern of engaging crew where they are picked up and dropped again with little notice, protection or reassurances about future employment. They are often the first to suffer and the hardest hit when production is impacted.

“The government is vocal about the huge cultural and economic value of the creative industries; it must put its money where its mouth is and look after those who work in the sector. Likewise, urgent industry collaboration and commitment from employers to support the freelance workforce is critical if we want to UK to remain a cultural hub.”

Royal Society of Arts staff set for two-day strike

05 Sep 2023

Staff at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action for the first time in the organisation’s history.

The action will take place on Tuesday 19 and Thursday 21 September, after 93% of union members voted in favour on a turnout of 79%.

Union members were balloted for strike action following a below-inflation pay offer.

One member of staff told The Observer management refused to negotiate from an offer of £1,000 for all staff following five rounds of discussions.

They added negotiations had been “totally dismissive, anti-democratic and hypocritical”.

RSA’s impact report for 2022/23 shows money spent on the leadership team’s total remuneration package increased by 170%, from £359,000 to £976,000. Its reserves currently stand at £32m.

Confirming the action on Twitter/X, RSA Union said the strike “is easily avoidable if management return to the table with an improved offer that would cost them less than 3% of unrestricted reserves”.

Founded in 1754, the London-based charity became joint-hosts of the Creative Policy and Evidence Centre earlier this year.

Ahead of the ballot result, RSA released a statement claiming its reserves are not available to cover operating costs including staff salaries.

It adds the charity is committed to a review of staff pay in September following reforecasting income and expenditure and rebuked the claim executives have seen a 170% increase in pay, stating the rise was down to filling vacancies and the CEO returning from a secondment.

‘Extremely alarming’ pay gap in Ireland’s creative industries

23 Aug 2023

Creatives in Ireland’s music and performing arts sectors are earning less than two-thirds of their counterparts in other industries, according to the findings of a new survey.

Pay offer sees British Museum strike called off

11 Jul 2023

A scheduled six-day strike by staff at the British Museum has been called off after a new pay offer was made.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union said it had suspended the strike, due to begin today, after the museum presented it with an offer that "addresses the most pressing concerns of its members".

It said that although the offer falls short of meeting the union's entire claim, it includes significant concessions including a a cost-of-living payment exceeding £1,500 for most members.

The museum has also said that all staff will receive at least the London Living Wage (LLW), and has offered a percentage increase for all other staff beyond the civil service pay remit guidance.

PCS said the overall award, including both consolidated and non-consolidated elements, amounts to approximately 14% for the lowest-paid members of PCS. 

The offer is yet to be accepted and negotiations with the British Museum are set to continue.

Mary Doolin, PCS Full-time Officer, said: “Strike action is always considered a last resort. 

"The decision to suspend the strike demonstrates PCS' willingness to engage in dialogue when reasonable offers are made by employers."

ABTT survey flags two key pipeline challenges

Visitor to the ABBT Theatre Show in Alexandra Palace
03 Jul 2023

Pay and work-life balance are among the key factors affecting recruitment and retention in technical theatre roles, a survey has shown.

Art technicians survey hopes to address low pay

28 Jun 2023

Art technicians in the UK are being asked to take part in a survey as part of union plans to establish recommended rates of pay.

The online survey by Bectu is open to all art technicians, art handlers, fabricators, framers and studio assistants working in the UK.

Bectu intends to use the findings as the basis for pay guidance for the sector.

It will establish minimum ‘professional, general and managerial rates’ to help art technicians negotiate their pay.

The union said that due to a lack of standardisation in the sector, rates of pay have traditionally been very low, with pay discrepancies depending on venues and location.

It added that technicians frequently receive no compensation for overtime.

Joint Branch Chair of Bectu’s art technicians branch, Phill Wilson-Perkin, said: “Low wages, irregular work and lack of security will lead to a decline in diversity within the art handling industry.

“It’s hard to see how individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds can make ends meet, considering the instability and inadequate rates of pay.”

British Museum to pay translator after plagiarism allegation

26 Jun 2023

The British Museum has offered to pay translator Yilin Wang for her work, after she alleged her poetry translations had been plagiarised.

Last week, the museum removed a segment of its China’s Hidden Century exhibition after the writer said she received neither credit nor payment for her translations of work by Chinese revolutionary Qiu Jin.

The museum said that it had issued an apology for the “unintentional human error” and had “offered financial payment for the period the translations appeared in the exhibition, as well as for the continued use of quotations from their translations in the exhibition catalogue”. 

The museum described the matter as “an inadvertent mistake”. It has offered Wang payment in line with its usual rates, The Guardian reported.

Museum staff spent years working on the exhibition, which includes 300 objects and research from more than 100 scholars from 14 countries. Some staff and curators were subject to “unacceptable” attacks on social media and through emails after the plagiarism allegations, the museum claims.

“We stand behind our colleagues fully and request those responsible for these personal attacks to desist as we work with Yilin Wang to resolve the issues they have raised concerning the use of their translations within the exhibition,” it said.

Academics who have previously worked with the museum have written to express their concern, including Julia Lovell, Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck University and one of the principal researchers of the exhibition, who said she was “in full sympathy with Ms Wang’s anger”. 

“It was a genuinely accidental, unmalicious human error amid a very complex project, for which the British Museum have apologised profusely and sincerely, and sought to make amends,” she said.

In a statement on Twitter, Wang said that the museum had told her it would not be reinstating her translations in the exhibition. Her work is acknowledged in the exhibition’s catalogue.

Government to set up working group on music industry pay

30 May 2023

The government has accepted the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee’s recommendation on establishing a working group to explore issues around fair pay for creators and performers in the music industry.

The follow-up report by the committee was published in January, more than two years after it first began an inquiry into the economics of streaming.

Ministers have now agreed to the establishment of a working group to focus on fair renumeration for artists whose music is played on audio streaming services, as recommended by the committee, Music Week reported.

Chair of the CMS Select Committee Dame Caroline Dinenage said the creation of the working group “is a welcome step towards addressing the frustrations of musicians and songwriters whose pay falls far short of a fair level given their central role in the success of the music streaming industry. 

“The government must now make sure the group is more than a talking shop and leads to concrete change so the talented creators and performers we have in this country are properly rewarded for their creativity,” she added.

“The committee will be keeping a close eye on progress and also looking more widely at artist and creator remuneration to ensure everyone who works in our creative industries can share in its successes.”

The working group will be composed of representatives and experts from across the music sector and will “explore and develop industry-led actions that support fair remuneration for existing and future music creators as part of a successful and globally competitive music industry”, said former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

“While terms in new contracts are increasingly creator-friendly, those benefits are often not extended to creators still signed to older contracts, many of whom are paid at substantially lower royalty rates than their modern counterparts,” he wrote.

“The government wants to see a thriving music industry that delivers sustained growth in an increasingly competitive global music market alongside fair renumeration for existing and future creators. 

“We believe that these aims are complementary and that reasonable action can be taken by industry to address creators’ concerns around remuneration.” 

But Sophie Jones, Interim CEO of the BPI, expressed concerns that the working group will “disincentivise investment” in the UK’s music sector “at a time when labels are fighting hard to grow exports and protect the rights of artists in the era of AI”.

She said the effort seemed to be “at odds with the government’s ambition to grow the UK's world leading creative industries by an extra £50bn by 2030”.

“Numerous studies have demonstrated that streaming has benefited consumers and artists alike, with record labels paying more to artists than ever before,” she said.

West End actors and stage managers to receive 16% pay rise

30 May 2023

Actors and stage managers working in the West End will receive a 16% pay rise over two years, under new rates agreed by Equity and the Society of London Theatre.

The updated SOLT/Equity Agreement for West End Theatre Artists will run from April 2023 to April 2026, covering performers and stage managers.

It agrees an increase of at least 10% to minimum rates across all pay brackets year-on-year for the period of April 3, 2023, to March 31, 2024.

For the year beginning April 1, 2024, all pay brackets will increase by around 5% of the 2023-24 rate, marking a total increase of 16% over two years.

Rates for the final year of the agreement have yet to be calculated but they are set to increase in line with the consumer price index figure published by the Office for National Statistics in February 2025, plus 0.5%, subject to a minimum increase of 2% and a maximum of 5%, The Stage reported.

Equity had initially campaigned for a 17% pay rise in the first year of the agreement, with an additional rise of 10% in the second year.

The final new agreement will see rates of pay for performers and stage managers rise in line with theatre sizes, based on an eight-show minimum week with increased rates for 12-show weeks.

Rates for workers at theatres with a capacity of 1,100 or more will rise from £757.84 per week to £880.10 by April 2024.

Rates at theatres with a capacity of 800 to 1,099 will rise from £689.37 to £800.58 and rates at theatres with up to 799 seats will rise from £620.29 to £720.36.

The agreement also includes a 33% increase to swing fees of up to £120 a week and a 12.5% increase to dance captain fees up to £135 a week.

“Given the current economic difficulties facing both SOLT and Equity members, these negotiations were always going to be difficult and challenging,” said Robert Noble, chair of the SOLT negotiating committee. 

“However, through constructive dialogue and a professional approach by all those involved in in the negotiation process, a settlement has been reached that acknowledges the commitment and support shown by Equity members during the pandemic and seeks to address, as far as is possible, the continuing economic challenge that we all continue to face.”

He added that the settlement has received “the very strong support of members of both organisations”.

Paul W. Fleming, General Secretary of Equity, said the “excellent deal” marks the start of a process that will see trials of a five-day rehearsal working week.

“Our strong, constructive, but robust industrial relations have delivered a meaningful shift in pay and conditions at a time of extraordinary pressure for bosses and workers alike,” he said.

Equity General Secretary: “We need to win bigger”

23 May 2023

Equity leader warns industry bosses of £1m strike fund in speech calling on sector management to cooperate with union to progress workers' rights.

The coronation: A showcase for 'world class' orchestras

Thousands of Union Jacks decorate Covent Garden Market ahead of the coronation of King Charles III.
09 May 2023

If there is one thing the UK does well it’s royal celebrations, and none come bigger than a coronation. But, as Mark Pemberton writes, the coronation of King Charles III had one particular dimension - the inclusion of so much classical music.

Why are disabled people asked to work for nothing?

Pull Up sharing by Delson Weeks, Blink Dance Theatre
18 Apr 2023

In a survey of disabled arts professionals, Unlimited found 87% had been asked to do something for nothing. Lucy Peters asks Jo Verrent: When will the sector stop exploiting disabled creatives and acknowledge their value?

Norwich Theatre Royal becomes a Real Living Wage employer

04 Apr 2023

As part of Norwich’s designation as a Living Wage City, Norwich Theatre, Royal has signed up to the Living Wage Foundation’s Real Living Wage scheme, awarding pay increases of at least 10% to eligible Theatre Royal and Playhouse staff.

Eligible full-time employees will receive an average pay increase of 10.3%, while variable-hour employees will see their hourly pay rise 14.7%.

The theatre’s decision to join the scheme comes amid a three-year plan, spearheaded by the city council, to significantly expand the number of employers in Norwich paying the Real Living Wage.

As of April 1, the government's National Living Wage is £10.42 per hour for workers aged 23 and over. The minimum wage for workers aged 21 and 22 is £10.18, with those aged 18 to 20 receiving £7.49 and under-18s and apprentices £5.28.

The Real Living Wage – which is calculated based on the cost of living – is higher, with participating businesses agreeing to pay any employee aged 18 and older at least £10.90 per hour, rising to £11.95 in London.

“The news that one of our key cultural institutions is to become a Real Living Wage Employer is tremendous and a significant boost to the campaign to ensure everyone across Norwich gets a decent wage,” said Norwich City Council leader Alan Waters.

Staff at British Museum announce Easter strikes

21 Mar 2023

Union workers at the British Museum have announced further strike dates over the Easter holidays, as part of widespread industrial action.

Thousands of members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will strike in April in a “significant escalation” of the ongoing dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.

Staff at the British Library will take two weeks of action, between 3 April and 16 April, while staff at the British Museum will strike for seven days from 6 April to 12 April.

The dates fall in the middle of the Easter holidays, when local families as well as thousands of tourists will be hoping to visit the museum, which attracts more than six million visitors annually.

The planned strike follows upheaval at the museum last month. More than 100 staff members staged a walkout on 1 February, resulting in the last-minute closure of the museum.

A further strike from 13 February to 19 February, during half term, resulted in the cancellation of scheduled activities and the disruption or closure of services including the box office and information desk.

Artists 'earning £2.60 an hour', study finds

A woman painting in an art studio
14 Mar 2023

The Structurally F-cked report presents a stark picture of underpaid, overworked artists in the UK's publicly-funded visual arts sector.

Theatre company announces four-day week plans

Group of people dancing
14 Mar 2023

A theatre company in Manchester will adopt a four-day week on a trial basis, becoming the second National Portfolio organisation to test out the idea.


Subscribe to ArtsPay