Low pay or no pay: that’s entertainment

Low pay – or even no pay – is a huge issue”

Nicola, 28, is an actress by profession, but also works as an events manager, an office temp… it all helps to pay the bills. Casual and insecure ‘freelance’ work is becoming more and more the norm in the entertainment industry, she says.

“Low pay – or even no pay – is a huge issue. The only way to stand up to this is to organise ourselves as workers. I see no better way to achieve this than within the trade union movement.”

Stronger together

“If you are all fighting together, it’s much easier to get the terms and conditions you should have in the workplace,” she says. Nicola has worked with her union Equity (the trade union for actors, performers and stage managers) to fight for better pay and conditions, and she’s keen to share knowledge so that unions in other sectors where similar ‘flexible’ working practices have taken root can help their members secure better working rights.

“I’ve got more confidence. I no longer fear engaging with employers who don’t pay the minimum wage. I’ve learnt about being a freelancer, and I’ve met lots of people in the same situation.”

Campaigning pays dividends

Nicola also took part in a union project at the 2016 Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, where she worked with a team encouraging Equity members to reveal where they were working unpaid. They visited casts, including many non-members, and expelled myths about pay. They made leaflets, wrote articles, tweeted, took to Facebook, and spoke to the venues hosting productions.

They wrote a “fringe contract” for venues to sign up to, guaranteeing decent conditions and fair pay. This led to over 800 performers and stage managers getting paid at least the National Minimum Wage – a cool £1million in extra pay.