MPC argument against unionisation no. 1


MPC says: ‘The pot is not bottomless – if VFX workers want paid overtime/sick pay/job security/etc, then something’s got to give’

Naturally – this is not an unreasonable position for a company to take. BECTU is being guided by its members, and we recognise that the VFX industry is a financially challenging environment, and that the UK VFX companies don’t have endless resources. If we unionise, then of course it doesn’t mean that every single VFX worker’s wishes will somehow instantly be granted. Equally though, just because the VFX companies have limited money, it doesn’t mean that it’s somehow completely impossible for them to improve how they treat their workers. Nor does it mean that a recognised union would somehow instantly put the VFX companies out of business.

Let’s be completely clear: we’re not unionising because we’re trying to squeeze more money out of the VFX companies. We’re not unionising because we want to pick a fight. We’re not unionising because of some unrealistic ideology either. We’re unionising because of very serious and very practical concerns about how people are being treated. We feel that the way that the VFX industry is treating its people is not right, is not sustainable, and needs to change if the UK VFX industry is to keep the talent it needs to survive. Having coordinators block exits to prevent workers from leaving on time is not a reasonable way for MPC to treat its workers – ever.

If the union’s members started pushing for something unreasonable (like making all their salaries 100x larger), then the union can look at the company’s books and will tell its members that this is completely unrealistic, before suggesting a more reasonable goal. If a VFX company ends up shrinking or going out of business because of a union, then that hurts the union too, because it loses members and membership fees. No one wants to see unionisation hurt the VFX industry, especially not BECTU.

A union also doesn’t arbitrarily decide on its own how much workers get paid – the union negotiates with the company and they come to a common agreement. If a VFX company could convincingly show that it couldn’t afford to pay for things like overtime, then BECTU would listen and would respect that. However, in the last 3 years of negotiations with BECTU, none of the VFX companies have yet made such a case. We think that a well-rested and fairly treated workforce would be significantly more efficient than a workforce that’s tired, overworked and demoralised – and this is something that should be taken into account before blindly suggesting that ideas such as paid-overtime simply aren’t affordable.

Even if a VFX company couldn’t afford to pay for everything its members were asking for, there are still other ways of tackling the issues that we’ve been raising. It might involve making changes to bidding and how time is estimated, for example. It might involve developing a stricter company policy on worker exploitation, and punishing productions or supervisors that breach these rules. It might involve changing development priorities, so that the company focuses on improvements to remove inefficient workflows. It might involve negotiating different terms with the Hollywood studios, so that the financial health of the VFX industry can improve. A union can help with all of these these things, as it has helped in other parts of the film industry.

Finally, we would caution any company that makes this excuse. VFX workers are a smart bunch, and are quite capable of doing research using publicly available resources to see through bad excuses. Anyone can search the UK Companies House website to see that MPC made £11.6 million in profit in 2014, for example (PDF, page 8). Anyone can find articles proclaiming that 2015 was a record financial year for the film industry as a whole, with total box office profits in excess of $11 billion worldwide. If the UK VFX companies truly cannot afford to treat their people reasonably despite the fact that they’re part of the most profitable movies in the film industry, then maybe it’s time for them to ask themselves why and to take steps to improve the situation.

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  • Shahid Malik

    I work in the fx department at MPC London, so I can only speak to my experience.On the whole I don’t find the work load any less or greater them other houses in London.

    I never felt that I’ve been pressured into working hours that I’ve not been comfortable with. Also, having a family, I feel that they do understand if I can’t work the weekend in occasion.

    I do freely admit this is not the case for some other departments and I know that the comp team have been putting in the hours.

  • seniorComp

    I am from the comp dept. I have never been barred from leaving in time. There are requests sometime tru “can you make a last version…” was i always worth it ? no of course, client gone or didn’t bother looking at it… but blacking exit, I have never eared any of that, bullshit. For the profit, yeah sure there is profit, the question is how much of this profit came from london ? We have to be careful what we negotiate, the real risj i see is the comp dept melting to a very few people in london the the bulk of the work moved away in canada or bangalor… So lets be careful what we do ! Whaterver has been said, I did indeed notice a lot of changes of efforts in that way from MPC to avoid repeating the probems that happened on previous show. There are still problems, of course, but diffrents ones or the hard ones to crack…

    • LSP

      I had trouble believing the “blocking exit” claim myself at first, but I’m afraid it is true. Obviously I can’t post details publicly here, but if you speak to Joe P. in comp, he should be able to tell you where it came from and provide evidence that it’s not made up.

      As for all the work moving to Canada/Bangalore, this is a myth:

      Also remember that when a union is recognised, it doesn’t mean that those workers somehow instantly become more expensive. There is no reason that the work should go anywhere else, unless MPC does so of their own free will. If you’re concerned that MPC could suddenly send your job somewhere else at the drop-of-a-hat, then perhaps it’s time you had a union there to protect you?

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