UnionDues: On a tumultuous few years for entertainment workers

From #MeToo to mergers and a pandemic: Simon Sapper speaks to the head of BECTU.

Simon Sapper is a trade unionist and host of the UnionDues podcast.

In this week’s UnionDues episode, out today, we have an in-depth chat with Philippa Childs, head of Bectu – that’s the broadcasting, entertainment, communications and theatre union. It’s now a section of the Prospect union, but is still very much keeping its own identity.

It’s been a torrid time for many of their members, not least Bectu’s telecom staff caught up in the dispute at BT Openreach, where members recently took strike action over some fairly inexplicable senior management proposals. 

However, this is just the latest twist of a merry-go-round of issues. Philippa explained the ongoing hurt of most of Bectu’s freelance members being excluded from government Covid support schemes. That has now been ratcheted up by post-Brexit bureaucracy stymieing work opportunities in mainland Europe,. The row over visas is “a debacle”, and we’re seeing an inevitable drain of cultural talent and capacity as a result.

As you would expect, she is passionate about the importance of public service broadcasting  in general and the BBC in particular. “Even a sceptic would have to acknowledge that the BBC has stepped up during the crisis….and played a huge and important role,” Philippa tells me.

The question now, though, is: “Is anyone listening?” There is an overwhelming argument for public service broadcasting – I and a recognition that some services are best run as publicly regulated utilities (hight speed broadband, water, rail) – but this is often at odds with the position of government and/or the regulatory apparatus. So, a heartfelt shout out to those making the rational argument for public ownership, like the We Own It campaign group.

The culture of broadcasting, and the media in general,  is also very much in Bectu’s sights.  “The GoggleBox story is not a one-off by any stretch of the imagination” said Philippa, referring to concerns over an alleged culture of inappropriate behaviour at production company Studio Lambert, now being addressed by negotiation.

And the lack of respect that those sorts of behaviours represent are often closely linked to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and other protected characteristics.  It’s not surprising that the union is proud of its work with other unions and employers to securing charters on dignity at work across the sector. It’s important but still only a stepping stone to inclusivity. “Our activists are really engaged and ambitious for change” says Philippa.

There’s just time to reflect on the merger that brought Bectu and Prospect together – now more than four years ago. Philippa is pleased that there has been a recognition of the practical value of the Bectu brand in setting and maintaining standards in the entertainment sector – particularly significant when you consider the potential (inevitable?) challenges of merger processes.  You can hear the story from Prospect’s perspective in this podcast with Andrew Pakes last year.

We also have a barnstorming #thought4theweek with Prof. Mel Simms, reflecting that having a seat at the table is just as important as what we say when we‘re sat down at it.

Plus LFF’s very own Josiah Mortimer previews his #RadicalRoundUp – including stories on structural racism in the UK labour market, dodgy car companies, and living wage employers who, er, don’t want to pay the living wage.

You can access all episodes here.

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