COVID-19 Return to Work – Terms & Conditions (scripted TV, film and commercials)

Last updated: 18 Feb 2021

Guidance on returning to workplaces for Bectu members working in TV, feature film and commercials.

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Freelance workers have been very badly let down by the UK government and many have had almost no earnings so far in 2020. There are also a lot of people who shouldn’t be going back to work who will actually do so because they are desperate to do so. They will be doing so at risk to themselves and everyone else.

For the safety of all crew, and to protect the economy and the NHS, it is vital that there are no incentives in place that will result in people attending work when they shouldn’t do so. For this reason, Bectu is urging members to press employers for fair terms to be applied to cover absences, suspensions or periods of isolation related to COVID-19.

The freelance bargaining relationship with employers is often one-sided at the best of times. It is important that this is not exploited in a way that puts lives, whole productions, or even the industry at risk.

For the purposes of this briefing..

  • the word ‘worker’ should also include people who supply their labour as a ‘loan out’
  • the London Living Wage is £10.75 per hour – 11 x 10.75 = £118.25
  • High-End TV = higher budget band of the TV Agreement

Guiding principle – COVID-19 related suspensions and disruptions

If someone is asked to do any of the following activities, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to work for another employer on the day(s) in question:

  • isolate, under the instruction of the employer, prior to starting work on a production
  • quarantine at the end of an engagement where required to do so by law, or by the employer
  • suspend work at short notice for a period of time due to a Covid-19 related reason
  • visit an employer’s site to be medically tested, or remain at home to await a home-visit for the purpose of testing

Under these circumstances, workers in High End TV or Major Motion Pictures should be paid at the full day-rate for their time. Wherever possible employers on lower budget productions should also aim to pay all, or most of the day-rate as a ‘retainer’.

Where this is absolutely not possible, the worker should be paid at least 50% of the worker’s rate for a ten / eleven-hour day (depending on the length of the production’s working day), or at the rate of the London Living Wage for those hours – whichever is higher.

  • We advise all crew-members to abide by these principles and this can be negotiated upwards but we strongly recommend that no-one accepts less than 50%.
  • We urge Head of Departments who negotiate these terms for themselves to also press for them for other crew wherever possible.

Thereafter, the worker’s fitness to return to full time work shall be re-assessed, in good faith, following examination by a suitably qualified medical practitioner.  Upon recovery, wherever possible, the worker shall have the right to resume engagement on the same terms and conditions.  If working from home, payment should be in full.

For Supporting Artists, agreement of provisions should be agreed in advance of calls, and a minimum of full payment for the first day of sickness or symptoms should it occur. This is key to ensuring sickness is not brought onto set to avoid a day’s wages lost.

If a worker is asked to go home following a medical questionnaire, or if they exhibit symptoms, they should seek a test as soon as possible. Under these circumstances, workers should not lose their job. If testing shows that they are safe to return to work, they should be allowed to do so.

Workers should continue to receive a payment until they have had a test and can return to work, and/or a payment if the test tells them to complete a period of self-isolation.

Where an employer refuses to offer payment for sickness absences, members are urged to request ‘Statutory Sick Pay’ where eligible.


Saying no to one-sided contracts

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Bectu is concerned that productions will use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to diminish the rates, terms and conditions of our members. The union has started receiving reports about requests to agree new contractual terms that Bectu believes to be unfair. These include:

  • unpaid hiatus
  • exclusivity clauses
  • shorter notice periods
  • health questionnaires that are provided prior to a job offer.

We need you to tell us about any instances where you have been asked to agree to these or similar terms so that we can log this activity, and where appropriate (with your permission) intervene with a challenge. Find our Unfair Contractual Terms Reporting Tool here.

You can watch Bectu’s briefing on saying no to one-sided contracts here.


Testing

Dailies and Supporting Artists are often asked to do tests without being paid for just one day of work and this is plainly unfair.

If a worker is asked to either travel, or stay at home for the purposes of testing, it generally means that they will be unable to work for anyone else on that day. For this reason, Bectu is advising members to press employers for the following terms and conditions:

Testing, and travel to a production or test centre for testing, should be paid in this way:

  • for workers in High End TV or Major Motion Pictures, the day should be paid in full.
  • for other workers, at least 50% of the worker’s rate for an eleven-hour day, or at the rate of the London Living Wage for an 11 hour day – whichever is higher.
  • for Supporting Artists (SAs) a non-performance call under the Pact FAA Agreement should be the minimum paid. This should also form part of availability checks where required.

Alternatively, testing can form part of a working day (e.g. a prep day).

Where a production organises testing at home, this should be paid a minimum of 50% of the worker’s rate or an FAA non-performance call if they are required to stay home for a window of time (e.g. a window of 3-4 hours in the morning).

All crew members should be paid regardless of a positive or negative test result.

Bectu has written a letter strongly recommending that employers adhere to the terms and conditions set out above – see here.


Responding to job offers

As long as our industry is applying COVID-19 safe working practices, there is an important distinction between:

  • an offer of work
  • starting work.

Employers have a duty of care towards you, and the people that you work with. For this reason, an employer can – and should – ask you to complete a Health Questionnaire before you start work.

However, Bectu advises members that it may be discriminatory for an employer to ask a worker to complete a Health Questionnaire before they offer you a job.

Members are advised not to discuss any ‘vulnerabilities’ to an employer prior to a job offer, because it is important that no-one is excluded from job-offers because of a disability.

Bectu advises members to always ask for a written confirmation of a job offer as soon as possible when an offer is made, and this is particularly important in a post COVID-19 return to work situation.


Health questionnaires

Any vulnerabilities revealed during the hiring/working process should be treated in absolute confidence and not shared with other employers or workers. Bectu advises members to contact the union if an employer breaches any privacy (GDPR) rules.

Employers should test to satisfy everyone that a disability or a vulnerability will stop a worker from working. This should not be done at the discretion of anyone from Production management, or a HOD. A medical professional should be responsible for this, wherever possible.

The decision to exclude someone from work due to a disability or health condition should not be taken lightly. Employers should make all reasonable adjustments to help people return to work if possible. If employers are not prepared to make reasonable adjustments (as covered under Discrimination legislation), then they should be offering compensation for lost work that results from this unwillingness to do this.


Suspensions and/or Hiatuses

The Force Majeure clause in the Bectu/Pact TV Drama agreement was negotiated on the basis that a Force Majeure this was a rare and unpredictable event. Suspensions or Hiatuses due to COVID-19 are not a Force Majeure in Bectu’s view, and it is not appropriate to use this clause in these instances.

Bectu urges members to negotiate instead for specific clauses to cover this. Where any contractual clauses introduce such a suspension, Bectu urges members to press for the the terms set out under the “Guiding Principle” – above for any COVID-19 related suspension.

In the rare event that an SA is engaged for a suspension period this should be paid in full, or there may not be any exclusivity imposed.

We advise everyone to be clear that they expect their contract to give them the option to hand in their notice, and be paid their one-week notice period, if the suspension includes exclusivity.


Compensation for loss of employment

A production company should assume all liability for any loss of work under most circumstances associated with COVID-19, and this should be a condition of returning to work. Workers should also have a right to return to work once they are fit to return to work.

Freelance workers have been very badly let down by the UK government and many have had almost no earnings so far in 2020. There are also a lot of people who shouldn’t be going back to work who will actually do so because they are desperate to do so. They will be doing so at risk to themselves and everyone else.

For the safety of all crew, and to protect the economy and the NHS, it is vital that there are no incentives in place that will result in people attending work when they shouldn’t do so.

If a worker is asked to go home following a medical questionnaire, or if they exhibit symptoms, they should seek a test as soon as possible. Under these circumstances, workers should not lose their job. If testing shows that they are safe to return to work, they should be allowed to do so.

Workers should continue to receive a payment until they have had a test and can return to work, and/or a payment if the test tells them to complete a period of self-isolation.

For freelance workers, Bectu strongly recommends members to seek terms that will result in them being paid at the full rate during this period. Where an employer refuses to do this, members are urged to request ‘Statutory Sick Pay’ where eligible.


Changes to standard terms and conditions

Bectu has existing agreements for some sectors (TV Drama, Major Motion Picture, FAA, Construction). Any variations to those agreements should not be detrimental to workers. However, Bectu would advise members to seek some variations to these agreements during this period to cover the following concerns:

  • longer ‘notice’ terms where possible to cover the increased likelihood of an unforeseen period of unemployment resulting from unplanned disruption / closure of productions
  • improved terms to cover a hiatus of unknown lengths.

In addition, to qualify for Statutory Sick Pay and other government relief, we urge members to request being a PAYE employee in some circumstances where they wouldn’t normally do so.


Working hours

Safety needs additional diligence. No cast or crew’s days should be made any longer as a result of COVID-19 measures. In particular, safety measures are less likely to be applied effectively when workers are “too tired to remember to put a mask on.”

We urge productions to

  • complete Prep and Wrap during contracted hours.
  • expect HODs to manage their teams better, and encouraging employers to split teams up
  • complete all work during scheduled hours and to avoid any overtime working
  • choose base-to-locations journeys carefully in order to limit travel time.
  • allow longer periods of time to prepare a location
  • consider working from home for production staff
  • think about split shift to avoid rush hour.

Food in the workplace

  • We urge productions to pay an additional per-diem to workers who are expected to provide their own lunch
  • Additional paid time included in the working day should be provided for people who are asked to go off-site to collect food.

Safe working advice and representation

  • Bectu members can contact the union on covid19@bectu.org.uk.
  • when abroad, members are advised to ask for the most rigorous guidelines to safe working that are available. This may be UK guidelines or local ones.
  • where quarantine periods are in place, workers returning to the UK are urged to agree a payment in advance to cover this period.
  • when working for an employer results in a worker being unable to work for any period (such as traveling between countries that have quarantine arrangements) the payment rate should recognise the fact that the worker concerned will be unable not able to go about their own personal business or work during the quarantine period.

Working from home

  • Before accepting work, members are urged to request allowances to cover heat/light/room/broadband etc
  • in addition, employers often expect longer working hours and ‘permanent availability’ from people working from home. Bectu branches should issue additional guidance to members on allowances and ‘availability’.

Risks associated with fatigue should be included in everyone’s risk assessments going forward, along with an acknowledgement of the dangers of driving before and after long shifts. It also has long term health-risks (diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc).

These terms and conditions are based on the minutes of a meeting of Bectu reps, 29 May 2020 and updated following meetings on 26th & 29th September 2020.