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



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Thursday VFX Lunch Meet

Come along to the VFX Lunch Meet every Thursday in Kingley Court (off Carnaby St) from 1:00-2:00!

Visual effects BECTU members and people who work in visual effect are meeting up every Thursday to talk about the union and issues that are interesting to people who work in the VFX here in London. This is a chance to change our industry from the ground up by connecting with like minded people and creating our own grassroots movement. 

Please come and join us today and every Thursday from 1:00-2:00. All are welcome.

Look for the green flag!


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JOIN THE DISCUSSION! This week’s topic: Sick Pay

Why Sick Pay is Good for Everyone.

You may have read on our last blog post about MPC’s sick pay policy change. But did you know that this came about from departmental meetings from employees? Meetings that were organised to discuss the ongoing union recognition bid at MPC and give employees’ a voice? Something that was a direct consequence of BECTU’s bid as an alternative to solve internal issues? Well done employees and MPC for giving employees under one year sick pay. It’s great to see that employees voices are finally getting heard.

Before this change, employees had to work over one year before receiving any sick days. While in the short term this policy might be perceived to cost a company more money by allowing more employees to have sick pay, it should actually cost the company less money and here is why.

Did you know that sick employees are estimated to cost employers twice as much as absenteeism from to illness due to  underperformance on those days?  Let’s be honest; when someone doesn’t feel well they don’t perform well; take longer to get better; and if contagious are likely spread their cold to colleagues.  But it’s not just pathogens their coworkers catch as this in turn will spread underperformance from a under weather workforce.  In a study of the H1N1 flu pandemic from 2009; results showed that outbreaks lasted longer in workplaces without paid sick days than those with sick days.

Maybe that sounds extreme, but when a lot of us work long hours we don’t have as much time to rest. We probably eat too many unhealthy take away work dinners, forgo the exercise and feel stressed to boot. All four of these things studies have shown to wreak havoc on the human immune system making us more susceptible to colds. Now add to the fact that many of us travel on public transportation to work in one the biggest cities in the world with 8.5 million people, and that’s a heady recipe for flu city. This of course has a big knock on effect to projects under tight deadlines.

So even the cost savings seems clear, under UK law, employers do not have to provide anything past statutory sick pay. To qualify workers must be off work for more than 4 days and results in 88.45 a week.  It is well known that union workers receive better sick benefits than their nonunion counterparts.  Better sick pay is just one of those many benefits. 

BECTU fully believes that everyone has a right to sick pay and should not feel compelled to come to work for fear of salary loss.


Has this been an issue for you? Are you satisfied with sick pay policy where you work? Tell us about it! Want to have your say? Come along to our weekly lunch meet-up where we get together and chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

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

Look for the green flag


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Thank The Union For Paid Holiday!

If you’re on a short term contract (i.e. less than 1 year) at one of London’s Visual Effects facilities, here’s a question for you:

Why do the facilities give you four weeks paid holiday?

Two reasons… 

1) Because if the facilities gave you any less paid holiday, it would be illegal!

2) Because the media and entertainment union BECTU (your visual effects union) launched a legal challenge against UK legislation in 1999 taking the fight for freelance contract workers all the way to the European Court of Justice

BECTU was successful and the courts ruled in June 2001 that the UK government was in breach of European employment law in denying freelance workers and those on short-term contracts the right to four weeks paid annual leave.

So never forget, before June 2001 if you were a freelance contract worker, you were not entitled to four weeks paid holiday like other staff colleagues. Now, thanks to BECTU fighting for your rights, paid holiday for freelance contract workers is the law.

Do you want a good reason to join the union? That’s a pretty good reason. How about these… 

Do you want to keep your four weeks of paid holiday? 

Do you think that businesses would like to get out of having to give you paid holiday if they could

Do you think their lobbyists are working on ways to erode or remove this benefit right now

BECTU is the only force that fights for your interests when legislation is reviewed or new laws come up for a vote. 

This is what the union does for us – Thank you BECTU!


Support the union. Join now.

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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!

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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


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Poll: Who Would You Like to Win the 2016 VFX Oscar?

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Quick ‘n Easy Unpaid Overtime Poll

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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?


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An open letter to all staff at MPC

Dear MPC Employee,

We are sure that you’ve heard rumblings about a bid by BECTU to achieve Trade Union Recognition at MPC. We thought that it was time for the union to write to you directly – addressing some of the concerns that have been raised with us over recent weeks.

We initially asked for union recognition in the Compositing and Roto-Prep departments of MPC because most of the staff in those departments asked us to do so.

Most of the staff in those departments (65% on the day that we lodged our request) were already BECTU members. Your colleagues did this because they want a voice in the industry that they work in. So many of you are on short-term contracts, and because of this, our members told us that they were frightened to raise their concerns because they feared being labelled as a trouble-maker.

We understand that, and we will not be disclosing the names of our individual members to employers.

Having a formal role for BECTU at MPC would end that worry anyway, and that’s why your colleagues requested it. They have told us that they don’t like the assumption that they will work long, arbitrary hours of overtime. They don’t like getting emails – at 9pm – berating them for not being at their desks.

They don’t like the culture of short-term contracts and short notice periods. They don’t like the lack of structure in their careers with the company. In other sectors of the film industry, there are training paths and established career structures, and our members have a perception that their employers don’t care about that.

Since we lodged our first ‘recognition’ letter, our membership at MPC has grown considerably. Our total London VFX membership is four times bigger than it was in Summer 2015, and we are now thinking of broadening our campaign to other departments. But before we can do this, we need you to join the union.

We would like to deal with one important issue that has been raised by MPC Staff.

Every single bit of union activity will be 100% directed by BECTU members. Our work will not be driven by BECTU Officials or the wider union. We are a very democratic union.

For a long time, BECTU has been trying to have a serious conversation with VFX employers about the long-hours situation. We have found it almost impossible to get the employers to engage with us properly, and because of this, BECTU’s members asked us to mount a ‘Paid Overtime’ campaign.

We have to run campaigns like that when we can’t have a serious dialogue with employers. We would much rather sit down and negotiate ways that long hours can be limited and planned-for.

To be clear, we have no intention of asking for, or agreeing to, anything that will damage basic rates of pay. Other VFX employers manage this situation in better ways and we want serious conversations with MPC about how we can do this here. Paid overtime is only the solution if employers won’t be sensible and negotiate properly on this issue. Just to underline…

  • 100% of our policy positions with MPC will be decided, democratically, by BECTU members working for the company
  •  100% of our negotiations will be directed by BECTU members working for the company

We will not argue for anything without agreeing it with our members first. Our members love their work and they want their company to succeed. We are not planning to do anything that will hurt MPC. We are attempting to make MPC do something that it plainly doesn’t want to do: Negotiate with its staff about the working conditions that they are employed under.

Our members have reported that, since union activity started, that some working conditions have improved slightly, and one or two perks have started appearing in your inboxes. The 9pm emails have stopped…. for now.

We don’t want to lose these gains

We hope that you will consider joining BECTU. We enclose a membership form that offers a discounted joining rate if we get your form back (in the enclosed FREEPOST envelope) before February 21st 2016.

In the meantime, please keep an eye on – the VFX Union website – you will find details of our regular lunchtime meetups, and hear what other London VFX workers have to say about their working conditions.

We think that you deserve a voice.waiting

With best wishes

BECTU London VFX Branch

Download PDF here: An open letter to all staff at MPC


Want to find out more? Come to our Thursday VFX LunchMeet every week at Kingley Court, Carnaby Street from 1:00-2:00 (look for the Green Flag!)


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