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




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


What Kind of Contract Do You Have?



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!


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

Look for the 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.

MPC argument against unionisation no. 5

MPC says: ‘A union could mean that just 40% of the workers can decide the fate of everyone else’

This is either a misunderstanding of how union recognition works, or is a deliberate attempt to put workers off of unionisation by spreading misinformation about it. Don’t just take our word for it, feel free to check up on any of these facts yourself (this page by the UK government confirms it, as does the UK government’s full PDF guide to recognition). Let’s take a simplified look at how membership numbers affect a recognition bid.

Once a recognition bid has started, checks are made at several points throughout the process to make sure that the union still has enough support for the bid to continue. If at any point the numbers aren’t high enough, then the bid ends immediately and recognition is refused. The required membership level gets higher with each check as the bid develops:

  1. For a bid to start, the union only needs 10% of the chosen department to be members.
    Note: 10% is only a minimum. A recognition bid requires a union to commit significant time and resources, and are therefore not started lightly. It would be highly foolish for a union to start a bid with a membership level as low as 10%, and in practice most unions – including BECTU – will insist on a much higher and fairer membership level before they’ll even consider launching a recognition bid.
  2. Halfway through the recognition process, in order for the bid to proceed to the CAC, the union needs to show that a majority of workers in the chosen department “would be likely to favour union recognition”. For it to be able to do this, the union will either need at least 40% of the department to be members, or it’ll need some other demonstration of support (like a petition signed by the majority of the department for example).
  3. In the final stages of a bid, one last membership check is made. If the union’s membership includes over 50% of the chosen department, then recognition is granted immediately. Otherwise, if the union has 40%-50% of the chosen department, then a ballot is held – and recognition is only granted if over 50% of those who vote in the ballot are in favour of recognition. The vote is ruled to be invalid if less than 40% of the department as a whole took part. This is a higher standard than UK elections, where in 2015 the conservatives won a majority with 37% of the vote , and where no required minimum turnout rule exists at all (in 1998 turnout in one local election was just 28.8%).

So as you can see, this worry has no basis. Recognition bids are hard – deliberately so. It would be very, very difficult for a bid to be successful if only 40% of the department supported it. The only way this could happen is if either (1) the company chose to immediately grant voluntary recognition in step 1 without checking via ACAS that the union had enough support, or (2) if most of those in the department against recognition for some reason decided not to vote.

If a VFX company is genuinely concerned about “40% of the workers deciding the fate of everyone else”, then we would invite them to talk to BECTU. BECTU would be happy to correct any misconceptions they might have about recognition. BECTU can also give the company a rough anonymised idea of membership level in initial talks via a third party such ACAS to assure them that the membership level is high enough. From the conversations we’ve had with VFX workers and the feedback we’ve had so far, we can safely predict that it is a lot more than “just 40%” of our departments that want to see a positive change in the VFX industry!…

– See more at:

MPC argument against unionisation no. 4


MPC says: ‘For things to get fairer for everyone, seniors, leads and supes will have to accept a pay cut.’

Again, not true – this is an attempt to turn different workers against each other. Our response to this is exactly the same as the response that we gave for “pay-banding” and “the pit is not bottomless”:

  • Members get to vote on any proposed agreement that changes how pay or other key parts of our working conditions are run. If enough members are unhappy with a proposed agreement, then it will be rejected and it simply won’t come into force. If a new agreement was voted in by members, then it would be because a majority were unhappy with the old agreement, and a new agreement was therefore necessary anyway. No agreement will come into force without the members’ approval.
  • It’s not in a union’s interest to push a company out of business or to make it less efficient than competitors – workers would lose jobs, and the union will lose members. Remember that unions make their workforces more efficient, not less`.

It’s impossible to say with any certainty what exact terms will come out of negotiations between BECTU and a VFX company if a recognition bid is successful. The question that workers at MPC should be asking themselves right now is not “What will the results be for me financially?”, but rather “Are we being treated fairly by our employers right now, and if not, would we like a union to work on our behalf to try to improve the situation?”

– See more at:




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MPC argument against unionisation no. 3


MPC says: ‘If a union is recognised, then it’s no longer possible for us to reward good workers with pay increases’

Again, not true. Just because a union has been recognised, it doesn’t mean that pay agreements with the workers suddenly magically change. The relationship between the workers, a recognised union and a company normally works like this:

  1. The members at a company are unhappy. They speak to their elected union rep, and it becomes clear that a majority of them want to see some kind of change in their working conditions (like paid overtime for example).
  2. The union rep brings this issue to the union’s attention, and asks the union to begin negotiations with the company about it.
  3. The union negotiates with management at the company on behalf of its members, and tries to come up with a proposed agreement that gives the workers what they are asking for. If this isn’t possible, then the union will try to find an alternate proposed agreement that at least goes part-way.
  4. If a proposed agreement was found, then the union presents this proposed agreement to their members, and the members vote on it. If enough members are in favour of it, then the agreement comes into force. If the members reject it or if no proposed agreement was reached, then the members decide what to do next – whether to ask BECTU to go for a different deal, or whether to give up on their demands, or whether to consider industrial action of some sort to put pressure the company (such as refusing to work excessive overtime).

So just because a department chose to unionise through BECTU, it doesn’t mean that pay banding would automatically have to come into effect. It would only come in if the members wanted it, an agreement was reached, and a majority of those members voted for it. If a department feels that they are already fairly rewarded for good work and that the system isn’t being abused, then they’d have no reason to ask for and vote in favour of a different pay structure that gets rid of it.

Even if workers did choose to vote for pay banding or rate-cards at some point in the future, pay banding is more commonly implemented as a minimum anyway, i.e. “as a lead compositor, you should be paid at least £XXX per hour”. There’s no reason that a rate-card or pay-banding system should stop a company from paying talented individuals more than the minimum rate. If you don’t believe us, then have a look at a genuine BECTU rate card (PDF) for the camera branch, and see for yourself.

Finally, remember that any future decision we make over pay-banding/rate cards is completely separate from the question of whether we should unionise or not. The question is not “What will the results be for me financially?”, but rather “Are we being treated fairly by our employers right now, and if not, would we like a union to work on our behalf to try to improve the situation?”

– See more at:

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