Pensions and VFX

 

As a VFX worker, have you ever thought about what it will be like when you reach the age of 67? Will your pension be enough for you to live on? Will your health still allow you to work 70 hours a week to deliver the latest instalment of your grandchildren’s favourite superhero movie? And will it still be OK if you only get paid for 40 out of those 70 hours?

With a current average life expectancy in Western Europe of 84 years for females and 79 years for males, chances are that sooner or later we will have to answer those questions.

In the tables below, the Bectu VFX branch – i.e. ordinary VFX workers like you – have gathered and compared pension schemes from some of the major London VFX companies, based on the information provided to us by our colleagues who work at these companies. Let’s have a look:

(N.B. The real attraction of these contributions from yourself and your employers are that they are “tax-free” – it is a very efficient way to save for your old age).

Double Negative
Address 160 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QA
Number of employees 900-1000
Pension provider Scottish Widows
Enrollment Available after 3 months of service
Contribution structure (% of salary) From Oct. 2013: employee contribution 1%, employer contribution 1%.
From Oct. 2017: employee contribution 3%, employer contribution 2%.
From Oct. 2018: employee contribution 5%, employer contribution 3%.
Framestore
Address 19-23 Wells Street, London W1T 3PQ
Number of employees 700-800
Pension provider Scottish Widows
Enrollment Available twice annually.
Contribution structure (% of salary) Employees may pay any percentage they wish; Framestore matches the employee’s contribution up to the following limits:

0-1 years’ service: no employer contribution.
1-2 years’ service: employer matches employee contribution, capped at 1%.
2-3 years’ service: employer matches employee contribution, capped at 2%.
3-4 years’ service: employer matches employee contribution, capped at 3%.
4+ years’ service: employer matches employee contribution, capped at 4%.

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)
Address Hend House, 233 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EE
Number of employees 300-400
Pension provider Royal London
Enrollment Available after 3 months of service
Contribution structure (% of salary) Year 1: employer contribution 1%, employee contribution 1%.
Year 2: employer contribution 3%, employee contribution 3%.
Year 3 onwards: employer contribution 4%, employee contribution 5%.
The Moving Picture Company (MPC)
Address 127 Wardour Street, London W1F 0NL
Number of employees Approx. 700
Pension provider Aegon
Enrollment Available after 3 months of service
Contribution structure (% of salary) Until April 2018: employer contribution 1%, employee contribution 1%.
Until April 2019: employer contribution 2%, employee contribution 3%.
Beyond April 2019: employer contribution 3%, employee contribution 5%.

So, for example, let’s say you are a freelance VFX artist who gets hired by ILM on a 6-month PAYE contract. After 3 months of service you will be offered to join the company’s Royal London pension scheme. If you opt in, ILM will take 1% of your salary from your monthly payroll and match it with another 1%, all of which goes into the Royal London pension pot. Jolly good.
After 3 months of payments into your pension, your contract ends. ILM will stop making contributions into your fund, which becomes dormant.

You go job hunting again and you are lucky enough to land a 1-year contract at Framestore. During that time you will have the option to join the company’s Scottish Widows pension scheme, but unfortunately Framestore will not match any of your contributions into your pension pot.

When your contract at Framestore comes to an end, you are hired again by ILM, where – after 3 months of service – you will again be offered to start making contributions into the same Royal London pension scheme you joined a year and 3 months earlier, starting again from the lowest contribution level.

Chances are that by the time you reach your retirement age you will have collected at least half a dozen small pension funds from different providers. Every time you move home or your circumstances change you will have to notify each and every one of them. Until, when it’s finally time to retire, you are likely to receive a very small amount of money from a multitude of pension providers.

On top of that, there are a lot of three-month periods where you will not be earning any pension at all.

It’s finally worth noting that these levels of contributions are fairly close to being the bare legal minimum in most cases.

Bectu negotaties with employers in the TV and Film industries who offer contributions that are “matched” (i.e. employees and employers both contribute 5%) or even “better than matched” (i.e. a 1-for-2 scheme where employees contribute 4% and employers pay in 8%) with very high caps – often up to 10%.

We are in an age where state provision of welfare is falling and the expectation of private pension provision is rising. It’s time that VFX companies step up and care about the welfare of their employees.

What can the Bectu VFX branch do?

Quite a lot, actually. The union can push for London VFX companies to adopt the same pension provider, so that if you keep moving from one company to another on short term contracts you will cumulatively keep making payments into one single pension pot. The NEST scheme was set up with exactly this eventuality in mind. And if you return to a company after a few years you won’t have to start all over again from the lowest contribution level. Bectu can also push for a better pension deal in line with what other media companies are already offering.

These things are not impossible to get, and no they won’t kill the London VFX industry. But there is a catch. The Bectu VFX branch is a union of VFX workers, and as such is only as strong as the sum of its members. We have grown a lot in recent times, but even with the current membership numbers we are simply not strong enough to be able to challenge big VFX companies, which can happily keep offering their employees only the bare minimum of employee benefits. A tiny improvement in your pension provision would more than cover the cost of your union dues.

If we don’t stick together right now asking for a better pension deal, we will certainly be on our own when – after a lifetime of sitting down in dark rooms staring at computer screens – our health will fade and we will no longer be able to sustain the punishing working hours of a movie delivery schedule.

Joining Bectu is confidential and requires no political affiliation.

Happy 2017!

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