Large BECTU survey points to serious concerns from MPC’s visual effects workers

full article on BECTU’s website here

Bare necessities missing for VFX workers at MPC

“Moving Picture Company appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm” says BECTU, the media and entertainment union.

In a large-scale survey of people who have worked at London’s Moving Picture Company (MPC), conducted in the week leading up to the UK premiere ofJungle Book, BECTU has found a workforce, both past and present, that has serious concerns about the company’s coercive working culture, with widespread complaints from world-class VFX artists about pressures to work excessive unpaid overtime.

In late 2015, BECTU started actively recruiting at MPC, which provided VFX services on Jungle Book.  In campaigning for union recognition, members were taken aback by management’s hostility to this move; recruitment literature was removed and discussion about the union was banned in staff forums. Thankfully, part of the company’s attempts to keep the union out resulted in small improvements to management attitudes towards their staff, but – as BECTU’s survey shows – significant concerns remain.

In particular, members were conscious of unfair pressure resulting from the company’s culture of short-term contracts. MPC has an employee-profile that dramatically contradicts UK Screen’s claims that “91% of the UK VFX workforce have a permanent contract.”

Short term contracts increase workplace pressures

Instead, MPC appears to have an overwhelming preference for short-term contracts, with a surprising number of individual respondents (in free-text comments) making a direct link between this and the climate of pressure from managers, particularly on unpaid overtime.

Significant numbers of staff were prepared to say that:

  • MPC is not interested in a fair dialogue with independently-minded employees
  • they have little faith in the ‘Crew Forum’ as a means of resolving problems fairly (current employees were significantly sceptical)
  • work-life balance for VFX artists at MPC is often very bad.

There were widespread fears around:

  • refusing to work unpaid overtime
  • raising legitimate grievances with management
  • management finding out about individuals’ BECTU membership.

There was a significant number of respondents who complained of “unwelcome pressure” or feeling harassed by colleagues / management, and an even larger number of respondents who said that they knew of colleagues who had experienced such pressure. A very clear majority of the respondents who knew about unwelcome pressure believed that reporting such behaviour would be frowned upon (in many cases because management were the ones behaving badly).

Paul Evans, BECTU national official, supporting VFX workers said:

“These results are very disturbing and we hope that MPC will agree to work with us on a full independent survey on this subject so that it can be dealt with properly. The VFX sector is now a central part of the UK film industry. It is astonishing that most survey respondents were frightened that MPC would find out that they are members of a trade union, and that there was a widespread fear of raising concerns, reporting unwelcome pressure and asking for a responsive management.

“MPC appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm – particularly the way the business is structured to pressure people into working long hours without being paid for overtime. In a few clear cases, respondents reported direct bullying and intimidation from managers.

“If the UK VFX industry is to retain the talent that it needs to survive and grow, it needs to be a race to the top, and not to the bottom. We need London to lose its reputation for excessive unpaid overtime, and this forms part of BECTU’s wider campaign to ensure that everyone in the film industry is paid for all of the hours that they work.”

 

BECTU is the media and entertainment union for the UK

read the full article on BECTU’s website here

 

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday April 14th  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

img_1126-1

JOIN THE DISCUSSION! Sick Pay: Part 2

How does your sick pay stack-up?

On our previous blog post we talked about sick pay, but do you ever wonder how your sick pay might stack up comparably? How it might stack up to other unionized sick pay?

The VFX BECTU Union Branch welcomes any company’s decision to give employees entitlement to some sick pay and it’s great to see employees speaking up and having serious dialogue about sick pay with some employers, but in reality offering 0.5 days per completed month, up to a maximum of 5.5 days within the first year of employment is peanuts in comparison to other employers in the media and entertainment industries.

The fact that so many employees in VFX are on short-term contracts means that even this paltry offer rarely ever matures into anything that would cover more than a couple of days paid sickness leave. Especially when we as workers can feel guilty about using those days during crunch and having our colleagues pick-up the slack when we’re all a team and under the gun together. Not to mention that it seems more and more these days we are in shorter deadlines and crunchtime with more work to do than ever.

Those sick days are of course used or lost and do not accumulate and when you change jobs, you must reenter another qualifying period even if you are returning to a company whom you’ve been employed with before.

Although something is better than nothing, not every visual effects company has had this policy. In fact, while not London based, Rhythm and Hues actually offered cumulative employment periods. That mean that returning contract employees didn’t have to re-enter a qualifying period if rehired. Their previous time employed, even with breaks, was counted overall for qualifying for extra holidays, sick days and medical.

We are aware that the VFX companies have a joint HR working group that is hosted by UK Screen and establishing something like this as a cross-sector arrangement would be a welcome development for the companies to offer fairly standard sickness terms to their owns staff and could help freelancers carry days with them to new companies. We also think that a cross sector arrangement might be beneficial helping visual effects companies come up to par with similar employers in the media and entertainment industries.

BECTU has seen comparative surveys of London-based media companies holiday offerings and the BBC turns out to have the lowest sick-pay provision – and even they pay up to four weeks sick pay for each illness, and up to 13 weeks for all absences to all staff who have worked less than two years in the company (the entitlement doubles after two years). There is no qualifying period on this.

If anything, because so many staff are on short-term contracts, we would expect an employer like this to offer much more generous terms. In the West End Theatres, while there are qualifying periods for earning more than Statutory Sick Pay, the industry has recognised that short-term contracts are a problem and the employers who are members of the Society of West End Theatres often use ‘continuous employment in The West End’ rather than continuous employment with individual employers as the qualifying measure for terms and conditions that vary based on length of service.

This makes sense to us on at the VFX BECTU Branch, after all, many times it’s not the employees or the company’s fault when there are gaps in projects. We fully understand that things get pushed, deadlines change, and sequences get cut on the editing room floor. However, we must admit that this is felt most by those who have contributed so much to the success of countless Hollywood Blockbuster that make millions who inturn then must deal with uncertainty and gaps in employment. While the gaps may be unavoidable, surely starting over and over at the same companies and reentering qualifying periods is something we can change.  As shown above this would be completely achievable and is already done by the West End Theatres and indeed was even implemented by another visual effects company.

This small change could make a world of difference for visual effects employees. It could even be broadened into a shared pension scheme, so workers don’t have to continuously roll individual pensions from one company to the next as they switch jobs and instead work through a “continuous employment in London Visual Effects” as the qualifying measure for terms and conditions that vary based on the length of service.

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday March 24  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag

green-flag

 

MPC Rethinks Its Sickness Policy

Yesterday MPC announced a U-turn to the company’s sickness policy which had already been officially updated less than six months ago.

With MPC’s management perhaps feeling pressure from the the wave of VFX unionisation sweeping the industry, freelancers on 1 year or less contracts are now entitled to up to 5.5 days of sick pay per year. This is a huge improvement as up until now employees had 0.0 days of sick pay during their first year of employment.

This simply would not have happened if artists in the MPC comp department had not previously joined BECTU in big numbers and asked the Union to formally put forward a recognition bid on their behalf.

It’s only by joining the Union and following a legal and democratic path established by the government that companies such as MPC will ever listen to its workforce.

MPC keeps being openly hostile to the idea of a Union, depicting it as a “third party” who wants to dictate policies, while not realising that the Union is nothing but their own employees, who are unhappy about how they are being treated and who are asking for change.

BECTU will keep pushing for recognition at all London VFX facilities in the months and years to come, and you can be sure to see more results like this happening.

We hope you will join us. No more fear!

JOIN THE DISCUSSION! This week’s topic: Union Recognition Under Short Term Contracts

Union Recognition in an Industry with Precarious Short Term Contracts

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving union recognition for many workers in the film business is the rolling project based contract. As the majority of the main workforce for visual effects are not a full time employees, but on project based freelance contracts, it is normal to see VFX house grow and shrink with demand based needs. This usually means that Visual Effects personal change jobs far more frequently than other industries and thus union workers numbers shift between different visual effects companies. 

While initially it may seem more challenging to achieve union recognition with workers constantly being released and rehired; ultimately being in a union would actually be far more helpful in this situation than you might think. With union negotiations it would be more likely that contracts would be more consistent. For instance sick pay might be regulated for all union contracts no matter where the union employee works. That means company A can’t you make you wait a year to qualify for sick pay, while company B allows for sick pay after 3 months. The union could also negotiate for consecutive benefits, which means if company A doesn’t have work for 3 months and an employee goes to company B during the down time and then returns to company A as a rehire, that employee shouldn’t have to start from scratch to elect benefits and undergo another 3 month probationary period. 

So how would the union achieve this? Well obviously the end goal would be similar to other Hollywood Unions and have the majority of the work force unionised, so it wouldn’t matter where an employee works, their union contracts and benefits could go with them.  The most important thing is to stay in the union even if you change jobs. Even for non union shops, the union is beneficial to it’s members right away (see last week’s blog post). At union shops, even nonmembers receive better working conditions and pay than non union shops. 

Secondly is to open the discussion with other industry professionals about what improvements they’d like to see and how they could have a voice.  At the end of the day it’s the membership that will decide what progress is most beneficial and would lead them to have more fulfilling job satisfaction and working conditions. 

Thirdly is to be aware that BECTU has a good sized membership already that work at nearly every company in London. At the major studios and a lot of the smaller ones, members are not alone in their membership and it just might surprise you how many other members there are.  

That said, this exactly why BECTU has to approach recognition at the right time to achieve the best results on their bids. Even if BECTU has the numbers, there has been precedent from other bids where-in companies unethically release enough workers through ending contracts in bid squashing attempts. As the majority of us are on short-term contracts this is something we must look out for and draw attention to when companies take this bullying tactic. Remember, we stand together. 

BECTU wants to make sure we achieve the best results for everyone, including working symbiotically with the VFX companies.


Are you worried about union recognition on short term contracts? Want to have your say? Please come to our weekly lunch meet-up where we will be discussing this topic this week. Also please take our new poll below! We want to hear from you.

We will be meeting this Thursday March 3  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag

green-flag

JOIN THE DISCUSSION! This week’s topic: BAFTA WINNERS AND NOMINEES!

CONGRATULATIONS BAFTA WINNERS AND NOMINEES!

This past Sunday was the 69th British Academy Film Awards.

The union members at BECTU would like to congratulate this year’s winners and runner ups. It was a brilliant year for British Visual Effects where many of our colleagues have had the pleasure to work on the nominated films.

Special Congratulations to Industrial Light and Magic, who was the winner of this year’s “Best Special Visual Effects” with STAR WARS: The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens had 2,100 visual effects shots created with more  than 1,000 artists around the world. It has grossed over $2 Billion worldwide and now is the third highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation.)

This week we would like you to join us to have a chat about the latest BAFTA nominations and winner and what you especially liked from a visual effects standpoint. We also hope to have a fair few of those who contributed to these films to discuss what it was like from an inside perspective.

Come and join the discussion!

We will be meeting this Thursday 17 February  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag

green-flag

What Kind of Contract Do You Have?

 

JOIN THE DISCUSSION!


What if I don’t work much VFX overtime?

Not everyone has the same issues or problems while working in visual effects. There has been a lot of discussion on the topic of overtime, but what if you don’t work a lot of overtime? What can the union do for you, you might ask. While we have answered this topic on our FAQ page, there are still many things that union can do for you.

  • When you join, you get access to lawyers and the experience of BECTU. They can help answer contract questions and generally advise you in all areas of UK working laws and employee rights.
  • If you have issues at work, BECTU can come and help represent you with your employer as your advocate.
  • You’ll also be part of a growing network of UK colleagues who come together to discuss issues and talk about related VFX topics.
  • The union could negotiate to ensure our members receive credits on films, as other unions have organized for their members.
  • Furthermore there are a lot other benefits that collective bargaining can achieve beyond OT issues including better sick/holiday/flex-time benefits and redundancy packages in case of layoffs or better contractual notice (a topic we have recently posted about.) and lots of other changes that can improve your work conditions and strengthen the industry as a whole.
  • There are even some great discounts and offers that you as a member receive, including an Apple Store discount. See BECTU’s website for details.

 

This is still something you can contribute on. Please come to our weekly lunch and discuss with your vfx colleagues what you’d like to see come out of an agreement between workers and visual effects companies. You are the union – get involved! Also, please Take our latest poll on contracts!

LOCATION CHANGE:

We will be meeting this Thursday 11 February  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag

green-flag

What Kind of Contract Do You Have?

From our FAQ Page:

What if I don’t work much VFX overtime?

Then you’re very lucky! However, remember that this is issue is not just about you – it’s about your friends and colleagues too.How many of them have you seen regularly working late without pay? How often do you see them queueing up for the company dinner in your office each evening, especially around a deadline? Do you feel comfortable about that? Try asking some of them about the comments from the MPC Variety article or the VFX overtime survey – how many of them are genuinely happy about working conditions in the VFX industry right now?

You don’t need to be working excessive VFX overtime yourself to agree with us that the industry needs to change.