So what’s the big issue?
The issue is that many Film and TV companies are breaking the law with regard to not paying young people the National Minimum Wage where it is due. They will take on someone as a “runner” or “work experience” (using the claim that it is “good for your CV” or “good experience”) and then not pay them. This is illegal. Every worker (with a few minor exceptions) is entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for every hour they work. The current minimum wage rates are here. (This is for short engagements, holiday pay will be paid at the end of a long contract unless you have taken holiday).
If it’s illegal, why do these companies do it?
Some do it because they don’t know the rules (and every employer with a duty of care should) and some do it because they think they can get away with it. The 2005 TVWRAP campaign highlighted the issue of illegal unpaid work in the TV industry which encouraged a lot of companies now to abide by the law of the land. The better companies (like Granada, RDF and Endemol) do not take on young people to do unpaid work, however there are still some companies who risk the wrath of the Inland Revenue by using young people as workers and not paying them.
But what about “work experience” or an “internship” – surely that doesn’t need to be paid?
If it is just “shadowing” or the work experience is part of a course, for a full time student only, organised by the relevant academic institution and is a required part of that course (i.e the student has to do the work experience to pass) then people on work experience or internships need not be paid the NMW. The National Council for Work Experience say this:
“Government legislation in respect of the National Minimum Wage means that UK employers can no longer offer unpaid work experience, unless they are doing it as part of their course”
The problem is that most companies use the phrase “work experience” to cover a multitude of sins. Proper work experience involves training and assessment, agreed goals and a plan – it is primarily of benefit to the young person involved. “Work experience” which involves someone coming in to an organisation and doing jobs is not work experience, it is work. If it is work the person involved must be paid at least the NMW, whether it involves some residual training benefit to that person or not. Also an individual cannot voluntarily forgo the right to be paid the NMW where it is due.
But aren’t these people “volunteers”?
The NMW rules re volunteers are designed to deal with the issue of clubs and charities who may have people who give their time freely and without obligation. Someone on work experience is not a volunteer if they are given tasks to carry out, set hours, set meal breaks, appear on a call sheet or are doing tasks that a paid member of staff would otherwise be doing. That is work, and that must legally be paid the NMW. As the PACT rules state (rewritten after a meeting with the DTI) “A work experience person who…is expected to obey instructions should be paid at least the national minimum wage”.
The other issue is the question of how “voluntary” this work experience really is when every young person who enters the TV industry has to do it as a condition of getting paid employment. A recent survey found that almost all young people have had to do at least 3 months unpaid work before they get a paid job in the industry. That makes the “voluntary” nature somewhat suspect.
Why should I care about this?
Firstly because it is manifestly unfair that keen young people should be exploited in this way, for their labour to be used as a way of propping up the budgets of a TV production company. Of all the people on a production team, why should the youngest, weakest and probably most hard working be treated in this way?
Secondly young people who do unpaid work have to have independent means to support themselves while they are unpaid – that usually means their parents or their own savings. It often means that the less well off are thereby denied an opportunity to pursue a career in Film and Television. Fair?
And one very good point made by others – if companies can get people to do their work for free, why should they ever pay a wage to anyone. That then cascades upwards so the next level up is devalued and then the next.
The inevitable end point – no-one values real TV skills and no-one wants to pay for them.
An exaggeration? You ask the nearest Make Up Artist what has happened to their industry…
Surely that’s the price to pay if people want to break into a highly competitive industry?
Apart from the fact that it is illegal to use people in this way, why should young people have to give their time and effort unpaid just because lots of people want to do it? Should the basic morality of “a fair day’s pay for a day’s work” be compromised just because the media is a “glamorous” career?
Never did me any harm – it toughens you up – you need to be tough in the TV industry, it’s good training.
Listen Grandad the world’s moved on since your day – in case you hadn’t heard they scrapped National Service as well. The “toughening up” argument is nonsense – there are many skills you need to be a good TV Researcher/Producer/Cameraman/Director etc; the ability to generate good ideas, tell a story, frame a shot, capture good sound, prioritise, write good dialogue, manage people, manage budgets, have vision etc etc. Being able to live on fresh air is way way down the list.
OK I’m convinced, what can I do about all these companies who are exploiting young people and breaking the law?
Tell everybody about it – let everyone know who the offenders are right here.
Oh and join the union (BECTU) too – it really is the best way to start your career!
And of course you can also shop the offenders to the Inland Revenue. It’s easy to do (details available through this site). You can do it anonymously and the Revenue will never reveal your name. Or, if you don’t want to, PM me (click on my name) or send me an email (email@example.com) and I’ll do it for you. Your anonymity is guaranteed to be sacrosant – no-one will ever know.
HMRC always want to know about the people who break this law. And when HMRC get interested in a company on an issue like this, they tend to start looking at all aspects of a company’s finances – companies will soon realise it just isn’t worth the risk for a few hundred quid…
Unpaid work in TV is on its way out – we’ve come a long way in five years, let’s kill it for good.
*Edited to update the NMW rates*
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