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.