Following on from our survey about subscription jobs sites like My First Job in TV/Film and Production Base (and the promise from recruiters not to use them), the Sunday newspapers have shown an interest in what these companies are doing.
TV and movie workers revolt at ‘unfair’ fees for job adverts
They make the tea, clean the sets and sort out lunch for the stars, and hope for an eventual promotion to a bigger, better role. But there is rebellion brewing among the unsung heroes of the showbusiness industry.
Officials connected to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have launched an investigation after about 120 angry “runners” complained that to obtain their lowly jobs they first had to pay hundreds of pounds to showbusiness employment agencies, including one site that is currently recruiting runners required for a new Clarkson, Hammond and May car show, the Top Gear-style programme to be launched by the Amazon subscription service, Prime.
The runners – who are often paid the minimum wage – claim that websites such as Production Base, My First Job in TV and Film, and Film and TV Pro were illegally charging as much as £15 a month to have access to job adverts. The Employment Agencies Act 1973 makes it “illegal, except in specified circumstances, for an agency to charge a fee in Great Britain to someone who is looking for work”.
Each of the websites claims to have successfully assured the inspectorate that its business model complies with the law, since the websites are covered by an exemption designed to permit newspaper-style job pages.
But Laura, 26, one the complainants, who did not want to reveal her identity, said she had spent “easily £120” on the Production Base website – money that she could not afford and should not have paid. “I am very angry because I come from a council estate in Ireland, I don’t have the contacts, and this world is all about who you know,” she said. “So I paid out to see the adverts. And I don’t think it is right. That money could have been spent on rent and food.
“I only had two runner jobs from the site. To be honest, the Mama Youth project, which helps young people from under-represented groups, did much more for me and is the reason I have had a bit more success.”
Mark Watson, a television director who runs a campaign to expose poor work practices in the TV and film industry, said it was not fair to charge such fees to people on the lowest rung of the ladder.
Watson, who has helped the complainants to make their stand, said: “People are now asking for their money back. I hope the companies will just say, ‘Fair enough, here is your money back’. We are talking about thousands of people affected by this. “Charging anybody of any description to see a job advert does not seem right. There are exceptions for entertainment jobs in the legislation, but when you have got a runner who has thousands of pounds of debts, then being asked for fees to just look at jobs, and apply for them – well I saw red. I just don’t think it is fair.”
Production Base is one of the longest established agencies embroiled in the row. The advert on its website, for runner positions on the Top Gear-style show, neatly describes the lucky candidates’ expected lot. “You will be the unsung heroes who help this middle-aged trio make superbly entertaining TV,” the advert says. “Wit, intelligence, top-drawer work ethic, good in a brainstorm – all of these qualities required in spades.”
A spokesman for Production Base said it fulfilled a vital service in helping people into the industry. “We were asked by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to clarify that our business was adhering to all relevant legislation. After very positive dialogue with them, we are happy to confirm that we conform to their guidelines,” he said.
“We look forward to working with the EAS in future. Production Base has helped thousands of people find work within the television and film industry since we began in 1996, and we hope to continue to assist the freelance production community.”
A spokesman for My First Job in TV, who confirmed that it is still in discussions with the inspectorate over aspects of its website, said: “We were delighted to engage in dialogue with the EAS. They have confirmed that we are in total compliance with the regulations.” Film and TV Pro did not respond to this newspaper’s questions.