Creative industries must pull together to tackle coronavirus challenge

Philippa Childs · 11 March 2020

The coronavirus has taken us all by surprise. No one could have predicted, even a month ago, that it would be dominating our lives in the way that it has over the past week. And this seems to be just the start of things.

In today’s budget, the government announced measures to protect the self-employed and freelancers, including allowing wider access to Statutory Sick Pay and benefits. However, Bectu believes that this doesn’t go far enough and that more needs to be done. We need a proper support package designed for freelancers rather than something adapted from the benefits system.

This is a crucial time for the creative industries and particularly the tens of thousands of freelancers who work from one job to the next. As this crisis continues to unfold it could become the ultimate stress test for our industries’ ability to adapt and recognise that wellbeing comes first in these situations.

Coronavirus opens up the potential  for unscrupulous employers to take advantage of the flexibility built into the creative industries and turn that into precarious working. We have had reports of people being released from TV and film productions, without a notice period or cancellation fee, because they have returned from a country where there is coronavirus. This is not acceptable and in these kinds of situations our officials will work with members and the employer to find a resolution.

However, as precautions continue to be put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus we may find that these are not one-off situations.

We also know that in theatre and the arts legitimate questions are being asked about how workers should be treated if a space where large gatherings of people take place will have to close. That is why Bectu is calling for employers to meet and discuss with us the best way of dealing with this unique and challenging set of circumstances.

The creative industries, as pointed out by the new culture secretary Oliver Dowden last week, are growing at more than five times the rate of the UK economy. Even though coronavirus will prove challenging to handle it doesn’t have to mean that relationships between employers and freelancers should become strained.

In any conversations we have with employers, Bectu will be encouraging them to honour agreements on sick pay and notice periods. Where members don’t qualify for either we urge employers to seriously consider providing some form of payment based on an already existing agreement.

This situation is beyond the control of individuals and creative industry workers shouldn’t be financially penalised for doing the right thing by taking the necessary precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Rather than employers, freelancers and workers battling out how best to handle this situation we still need further guidance from the government, and Bectu will do its best to ensure that your voice is heard.

That’s why I urge you to complete our coronavirus freelancers’ survey to ensure that we have the most relevant information as we continue to work on your behalf.

Ultimately, we all need to pull together. This is as important for the future of our creative industries as it is for dealing with the current crisis.

Philippa Childs

Head of Bectu