Zinc Media – a question of disloyalty.

A week or so ago, it was finally confirmed from the very highest levels of HMRC that all freelancers on PAYE could be recontracted and then furloughed with immediate effect. 

This was great news for a large number of companies as the management of them had badly wanted to help out all their freelancers but had been a bit nervous to do so until they got some firm proof that HMRC wasn’t going to turn up at some later date and demand the money back.

As a result lots of them followed the lead of the BBC, All3Media and other companies and groups and got on with furloughing, to the huge relief of many TV workers, all of whom greatly appreciated the loyalty their companies were showing.

Not all companies though. Loyalty it seems, turns out not to be a quality much in evidence within the offices of Zinc Media,  a group which has a number of production companies under its banner (Blakeway, Blakeway North, Brook Lapping, Films of Record, Reef and Tern).

Because while other companies were doing the decent thing, those who run Zinc decided it would actually be rather a good time to scuttle indoors and close the gates behind them, preferring to shut up shop and not to furlough a lot of now very anxious freelancers who are left wondering how they were going to pay their bills.

When asked why they were not helping their freelancers in the way other companies were doing, the Head of Human Resources, Katie O’Callaghan told them that furloughing wasn’t something the company wanted to do, while further enquiries of senior management (Chairman Christopher Satterthwaite, CEO Mark Browning) produced no response at all.

So while Zinc is happy to wave around their various awards on their website, it seems they are somewhat less keen to offer support to those who actually made the shows that earned them. Not much loyalty on evidence at all. 

Worth remembering if Zinc Media ever starts looking for any loyalty back after the current crisis passes. 

Envy Post Production – refusing to furlough their runners.

There are lots of wonderful companies out there, doing their best at a difficult time for all their workers, both staff and freelancers.

And then there’s Envy.

It seems that this particular company is not quite so keen to spread the love, having dumped their runners onto the job market as soon as coronavirus hit and then refused to furlough them. This despite many impassioned appeals to Dave and Natascha Cadle, CEO and Creative Director of the company, asking them to do the decent thing.

Given that Envy isn’t exactly a small company and given that it is essentially cost-free to do, that seems a pretty tough way to treat the most junior people in the production chain.

So to all those HOPs and Production Managers who are contemplating which company to pass their post production work onto when we do emerge from coronavirus, might I suggest you give The Farm, MPC, The Mill etc a ring first? 

You might have missed this Envy but Runners need to eat too.

More on Envy here too.

Ricochet. Not prepared to listen when it comes to furloughing.

There have been so many companies that have worked really hard to furlough as many of their freelancers as they can. That is really gratifying at a time when it is particularly tough for every part of the industry – broadcasters, companies and freelancers alike.

There are companies however who have not seized the furloughing ball with quite the alacrity that others have. While that is understandable for the smaller companies, who may have cash flow issues (albeit that can be worked around), it is particularly disappointing when it comes to a big company, including the self described “leading production companies” like Ricochet.

This company has refused to furlough a number of freelancers whose contracts have come to a natural end (ie not specifically because of Covid-19). They claim that this is in line with HMRC advice, however that is not the case and numerous companies in the industry are indeed furloughing their workers under precisely the same circumstances.

Even more disappointingly it seems that they will not take advantage of the easiest way to confirm this eligibility either – by asking the official sources that could immediately confirm this (I asked Managing Director Joanna Ball to do this but she declined).

Who knows why. The only thing that is certain is that the longer Ricochet delays making that decision, the less money that freelancers will get. And of course if the company doesn’t listen to the official advice at all and doesn’t change what they are doing, a lot of freelancers are going to have to go without the money they need to pay their bills.

Seems a pretty tough way to behave.

Good news from All3Media!

For anyone who has worked for an All3Media company whose contract came to a natural end. I sent the email I received from Liam Williams of HMRC to the powers that be at All3Media and have just received this reply from the company:

Today we have had an email from the HMRC which does give us the clarity we needed to be able to furlough the group you referred to. I have asked the relevant teams to start the relevant process immediately. Thank you for bringing Liam Williams (HMRC) email to my attention”.

We are finally there it seems but please give this a chance to filter through and time for all your companies to sort themselves out. They won’t want to be inundated with emails, it won’t make the process any faster so give it a few days before thinking about contacting them!

Message to employers – go for it, Rishi wants you to furlough!

Many TV employers are keen to recontract and furlough their freelancers (of course they are, most were freelancers themselves once and know what it’s like). Lots are also a bit nervous of doing so though, fearful that they may fall foul of the whims of HMRC and suddenly discover they are expected to pay the money back because they furloughed where they should not have.

If it gives any comfort to those companies, the man at the top is very clear that he does expect employers to furlough if they possible can – as he puts it in a letter to one of his constituents:

“The government expects employers to do the right thing – the government is standing behind business and business should stand behind their employees”

So to those employers who are hovering on the edge of the diving board….please JUMP! Everything that HMRC has published about this scheme and every public utterance by Rishi Sunak suggests that they want companies to furlough everyone they can.

Numerous companies have now done so, to the greatest possible extent they can so. More are also doing so every day – so please take the leap now and do what you can for freelancers who really need it.

If your company says you can’t be furloughed because your contract didn’t end because of Covid-19…

Then please do point them to the following:

1. PACT’s guidance:

2. HMRC Customer Service:

3. Email from the Director of HMRC’s COVID-19 policy coordination team (NB THIS IS NEW, sent Friday):


The email above comes from the highest official source there is, short of Rishi Sunak himself (and he’s already said you can be furloughed if your contract ended “for any reason”).

It is in writing, clear and unequivocal. If there is any lack of clarity in the guidelines at all, this statement should clear that up so do ask your company to think again if you have been rejected on that basis.

In sum then: if your contract ended for natural reasons, unrelated to Covid-19, you absolutely can be recontracted and furloughed.

Officially confirmed.

Any chance that PACT can be a bit less crap?

**EDIT FRI MORNING**
In response to the request on this page, thank you PACT for removing the incorrect guidance in the first of these links. Confirmation then, if it were needed, that freelancers on naturally ending contracts (ie which didn’t end because of Covid-19 CAN be rehired and furloughed).

Just a thought Mr McVay, but if you have two pages on your site which completely contradict each other and are causing such confusion that some companies are not furloughing their freelancers and thereby leaving them unable to pay their rent and food bills….

Like this, which says this:

And this, which says this:

It might be a bright idea (after a week of having them up) to remove the incorrect one and stop sowing chaos in people’s lives.

Just a thought.

Do you work in Television production? If so tell us your rate…

Talking about what you get paid? Not very British is it.

But hey, the very notion of pretty much everything has been upended over the last month so let’s do something no-one in polite circles ever does and let everyone know what you earn (anonymously of course, we aren’t suddenly going to turn into Americans just cos of a bloody pandemic).

The Television Freelancers Task Force are putting together a rate card for the industry so we can all have some idea where we stand (or fall) when it comes to fair pay in the industry.

To that end, there’s a survey. It only takes a couple of minutes to fill in and would really help in gaining an understanding of what people really get paid across the wide variety of jobs in the industry.

Click on this link to complete it:

Rates survey

As soon as possible please. Results to follow on these pages.

Notes:

Please fill this out with ONE job in mind (perhaps it was your most recent project). So please do not average out your normal rate. We want this to be a true snapshot of what freelancers have been earning (pre-COVID-19).

If you do more than one job role, you can do the survey more than once – just have ONE job in mind each time you do it. So if you are a PD who sometimes SPs, or a Casting Producer who’s sometimes an Edit Producer, do it once for each of those job roles.

New furlough guidelines are out – and it is excellent news!

Because they confirm what we knew all along: contracts can indeed be renewed (even if they have expired) and workers can be put on furlough until the end of the scheme (currently the end of June).

Despite all the chaff thrown into the air by PACT over the past two weeks, this is confirmation of the details contained in the email sent to the Watercooler in rapid response to the question asked of the Director of Covid-19 Policy Coordination on Tuesday.

Specifically, these are the parts of the PACT guidance which do not apply:

“Where a fixed term contract has ended naturally, an employer cannot re-engage that individual and furlough them under the scheme”.

The new guidelines are much clearer that the above does not apply, endorsing what HMRC Customer Support have been saying repeatedly over the past two weeks:

An employee on a fixed term contract can be re-employed, furloughed and claimed for if either:

their contract expired after 28 February 2020 and an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 28 February 2020 (or)

their contract expired after 19 March 2020 and an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020

If the employee’s fixed term contract has not already expired, it can be extended, or renewed. You can claim for them if an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020″.

There is also no mention of there having to be work for the freelancer to return to, as specified in PACT’s guidance:

(There must be) “some remaining work still to be done under the contract, and the prospect of returning to complete that work at some point in the future”.

It is also not the case that the worker’s contract itself must have ended due to Covid-19, only that the employers’ business in general must have been affected (which is clearly the case where pretty much all commissions have dried up due to lockdown). Here is what the guidance says about that:

“It is designed to help employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) to retain their employees and protect the UK economy. However, all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme and the government recognises different businesses will face different impacts from coronavirus”

All in all then, a great result and clear freedom for companies to do what almost all had been striving hard to do: to furlough as many freelancers as they possibly can.

No doubt PACT will be racing hard to amend its guidance so it fits in with what the government guidelines actually say. It took them one day to change them last time, let’s see if they will be inclined to be so fast this time…

There are some lovely employers out there…

We have our Coronavirus Hall of Fame of course, featuring those best-of-the-best companies who are pushing aside the various obstacles in the way of furloughing and trying to do their very best to help their freelance workers.

What all those companies are doing is hugely appreciated by everyone who is being helped out at a really difficult time, especially because they know that the hard work being put in on their behalf produces no immediate benefit to the companies themselves.

A notable name to add to that list today – and worthy of separate mention – is Crook Productions, producers of a range of much loved shows.

We’ll spare their blushes in terms of the exact reason why this company is being singled out for special mention today. All we will say is this: Paul, Matt and Andrew, a lot of freelancers want to give you a very big, virtual, socially distanced, workplace-appropriate kiss and cuddle right now.

Many thanks to you great people – and may commissions rain down upon your corporate heads if and when normality resumes.