Bectu calls for urgent action as television freelancers report unprecedented lack of work  

17 May 2023

Bectu has issued a statement of support for UK freelancers and warns of a crisis in the unscripted television sector, following increasing reports that large numbers of TV professionals are facing unprecedented gaps in employment.

The statement follows a motion carried at Bectu’s national conference in Eastbourne on 14 May from the union’s unscripted branch, which noted that 2023 has been unusually quiet for freelancers in the unscripted genres. Many have reported being without any form of work since January or earlier.

This is uncharacteristic of the industry and is alarming at a time when many freelancers are still suffering from precarious employment following the impacts of the pandemic.

With many freelancers having already left or considering leaving the industry, Bectu is very concerned that there may not be a sufficient workforce to meet demand when production returns to more normal levels. Freelancers are telling the union that they urgently want to see productions green lit and budgets signed off so they can get back to work.

It is therefore urging industry stakeholders, including broadcasters, streamers and production companies, to come together to address the issue as a matter of urgency.

The union represents freelancers working in unscripted television genres such as factual entertainment, entertainment, documentary, non-scripted comedy, news and current affairs, sports, children, reality, music and live and natural history at any level – from runner to executive producer.

It is surveying freelancers working on unscripted productions in the UK to better understand the scale of the issue and its impact on the freelance community, the results of which will help inform its discussions with the industry.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“We are deeply concerned at increasing reports of unscripted freelancers struggling to find work, with many telling us this is the longest period without work that they have ever experienced.

“Freelancers are critical to the success of the UK’s world-class film and TV production sector, however, at times it can be a lonely and uncertain profession. Many have already faced incredible challenges brought on by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, and work long hours to the detriment of their mental health, family lives and work/life balance. Now, many are struggling to simply get by.

“The ‘feast or famine’ nature of the industry – whereby there may be an overabundance of work one minute, and none the next – is an incredibly challenging environment to work in and we urge the industry to come together not just to address the current crisis, but to commit to long-term change. Broadcasters must better communicate with freelancers and give them a seat at the table to find solutions to a system that places all of the risks of employment and unemployment on the individual workers.

“Talented workers who are the backbone of the industry are suffering, and we must not underestimate the damaging impact of this system, both financially and in terms of mental health and wellbeing. Their skills, talents and livelihoods must be better respected.

“Bectu stands in solidarity with all unscripted freelancers at this difficult time and we call on broadcasters, streamers, production companies and other stakeholders to fully engage with us to seek and drive urgent change.”

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The motion carried at Bectu’s conference on Sunday 14 May 2023 is below.

Emergency Proposition – EM 7/23

Conference instructs Bectu to publicly declare an emergency in the freelance TV community. This year has been unusually quiet for freelancers in the Unscripted genres, and many have not worked at all since January or earlier. We would have expected it to have picked up from mid February into late – this hasn’t been the case and is uncharacteristic of the industry. We ask the Broadcasters to sign off budgets and green light series as a matter of urgency.

Large numbers of freelancers are currently at their lowest ebb and struggling to get by to pay their bills as a result. The industry has gone out of its way in recent years to promote diversity, including those from underprivileged backgrounds, but now for many the freelance model is starting to feel unsustainable. With so many freelancers forced to consider leaving the industry now, there may not be enough of a workforce remaining when production returns to more normal levels. 

Bectu should also express solidarity with freelancers and open up available resources to help and assist where possible. We believe that all freelancers are “Worth It” and the Broadcasters need to look holistically at the industry from a freelancers’ perspective, for example commissioning more paid development in quiet periods to keep freelancers in work, offering paid training opportunities, and placements to help people upskill. Finally, communication between broadcasters and freelancers must improve and freelancers should have a seat at the table to find solutions to a system that places all of the risks of employment and unemployment on the individual workers.

London Production Division – Unscripted Branch