Bectu invites production companies to collaborate to furlough freelance PAYE crew

3 April 2020

Bectu is inviting production companies to work with the union to furlough PAYE crew after writing to 280 companies and calling on them to use the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to furlough PAYE freelance workers.

The letter asks each production company to:

  • use the CJRS to continue to pay anyone they can
  • re-engage staff who have been permanently laid off where the CJRS permits it
  • compensate crew hired on daily contracts in line with those on weekly contracts
  • avoid ending existing contracts during the crisis.

Bectu has welcomed the commitment of some larger production companies to reinstate all PAYE crew and sign up to the CJRS, including Warner Bros, HBO and Disney.

Bectu is now organising a session with smaller production companies on the details of the scheme with freelance expert Tony Lennon.

The session has been drawn up after smaller independents have contacted Bectu to say they want to do the right thing, but are daunted by the scheme’s complexities and the long wait for the government to reimburse any outlay – the end of April at the earliest.

Alleviating fears

Nearly half of respondents to a Bectu survey (47%) expressed fear that production companies will not use the scheme. But Bectu wants to work closely with production companies to find solutions.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“Many productions are willing to help but they have real concerns about how to do it – especially smaller organisations. The long wait for reimbursement is a big worry.

“We are willing to talk through the difficulties with those productions and offer our advice on how to make it work.”

“We know it’s a big ask but despite the flaws, companies will get their money back eventually.

“Production companies who do it will provide a vital lifeline for people so they can eat and pay their bills. They will help keep people safe by enabling them to stay at home and practice social distancing rather desperately seeking potentially risky alternative work.

“They will lay the groundwork for the industry get back on its feet once this crisis ends.”

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the CJRS, workers whose tax and National Insurance is deducted at source by the production company can currently be re-hired and furloughed by their last engager if they were working for them on or before 28 February.

The guidance applies to full-time and part-time employees; part-time employees, as well as those on agency contracts and flexible or zero-hour contracts. Staff made redundant after February 28 can be rehired and put on furlough, but not new joiners.

Furloughing enables the employer to claim back 80% of a person’s salary from the government, capped at £2,500 a month – initially for three months. .

While production companies wait to be reimbursed, the government is encouraging those struggling with cash flow to apply for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Short contracts

Bectu’s letter highlights the plight of PAYE freelancers on short contracts – sometimes daily – who move around productions. Bectu data shows that most in this category work at least three short-term contracts a year, and some up to nine.

Childs said: “Often they work with the same company on different finite projects. In those situations we believe employers could support them through the JRS.”

Other measures

Bectu is also asking production companies to help lobby the government to:

  • remove the cut-off date so that those engaged after 28 February qualify for the JRS
  • make JRS funds available sooner
  • allow crew employed through their own limited companies to have their dividends treated as income under the government’s Self-employment Income Support Scheme, (which currently only supports sole traders)
  • provide a monthly payment capped at £2,500 for those earning above £50,000 a year under the SEISS (already available to employees qualifying for the JRS).

More information

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Now more than ever, we are stronger together. Bectu will continue to work to ensure a better deal for workers in the creative industries and the more members we have, the stronger our voice.
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