MPC argument against unionisation no. 2

Squeezed-coin-between-fin-007MPC says: ‘If one department unionises, then we’ll have to cut everyone else’s pay by 20% to pay for it’

It’s hard to take this excuse as anything other than blackmail, and an attempt to turn VFX workers against each other.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, when a union is recognised it doesn’t somehow mean that every worker instantly gets suddenly becomes more expensive, or that everyone instantly gets paid overtime. When a union is first recognised, nothing changes at all beyond the fact that the company is now required to talk to the union, and must give access to the information they need to be able to do their job (profit margins, pay scales, employee lists, etc). If MPC chose to cut everyone else’s pay as a bizarre form of “collective punishment”, then there would be absolutely no reason for them to do this other than greed – they would be using the union as a convenient excuse to increase profits by reducing wages. If this came to pass and these other departments felt unhappy at being punished like this, then BECTU would welcome them with open arms, and would be happy to start fighting for their rights too.

Remember, unionisation is a basic legal right that almost everyone in the UK has – why should MPC punish its workers simply for exercising their rights? What if instead of putting all this time and effort into fighting unionisation, MPC put the same time and effort into collaborating with the union to end worker exploitation and excessive overtime instead?

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MPC argument against unionisation no. 1


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.

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New game. New rules. 

Welcome to the Brave New World of Visual Effects! 

The compositing department at MPC has unionised and the global response has been amazing! The Hollywood Reporter covered the story and now fxguide has a post up on their website as well. Twitter has gone bananas on the subject and Reddit is doing that thing that Reddit does!

But this is not just about the comp department at MPC. This is about ALL the departments at MPC. This is about ALL the Visual Effects facilities in London. This is about the whole of the Visual Effects Industry around the world!

So many people in vfx tell me that they’d like to have a union, but they’re waiting for something to happen. Well, guess what? Something’s happening!

You know that train you’ve been waiting for? It’s pulling out of the station right now! Jump on board!

To all VFX Union members: you need to start talking to your coworkers around you and get them to join and you need to get started now! No one else is going to do this for us. Stop sitting around waiting for someone to do something. YOU need to do something! We ALL need to take action now to make this happen! 

How do members get non members at work to join the vfx union?

Simple. Stop and chat with your fellow vfx workers. Talk with them one on one.

Ask them if they’ve heard about the union. Ask them if they’ve thought about joining. Most of your coworkers will say yes to both of those questions. They might even tell you they’re already a member! Result! Now you’ve got someone to help recruit more members!

It’s all about talking and connecting with people. It’s so easy to get a bit isolated in this industry and lost in our own little worlds, but I’ve found almost everyone will really open up when the subject of the vfx union is raised. It’s something people in vfx like talking about.

Engage with them on the subject. Tell them about and our terrific set of FAQ’s where they’ll find an answer to almost any question they can think of. Tell them your opinions on the industry and unionisation but more importantly, listen to theirs. 

You will almost always find that they agree to join in that first conversation, but don’t stop there – this is just the beginning of the process!

Go back to them the next day and ask them if they’ve signed up. Most likely they didn’t but don’t despair and don’t give up. Answer any questions they might have or just pick up the chat where you left off yesterday. Do it again the next day. Repeat these visits until they tell you they have signed up. Usually no fewer than 3-4 return chats in my experience. Often many more. Seriously… Don’t give up.

Don’t get frustrated. Everybody WANTS to join, but there is a journey from wanting to join to actually joining that you need to guide them on. 

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) are very real in our industry and for many, it is not a trivial thing to break away from it. Short term contracts, demands for overtime, constantly moving from one facility to the next – even moving countries to chase the work has left most of us feeling vulnerable and insecure about our livelihood. Everybody has bills, families, mortgages to worry about and nobody want to put that at risk. It shouldn’t be, but joining the union can be a scary prospect for many of us. For people in our industry, the FUD is a very, very real thing. 

Everybody who hesitates joining will give may different reasons, but it all boils down to FUD. The good news is, virtually everyone agrees with the idea of a union and nobody wants FUD to rule their lives. 

Perseverance. That’s what it takes. They won’t come to you, so you must go to them and in time, they will eventually sign up. They always do because it’s what they want. They told you that in your first conversation with them!

Good luck everyone!


Unionisation at MPC!


BREAKING NEWS! The VFX branch of BECTU has given formal notice to MPC’s management that the Compositing Department at MPC are unionising, and will be applying for union recognition.

Yesterday (2nd Dec. 2015), MPC responded to this, and called the entire comp department (over 130 people) into a short meeting. They announced that the company had received a petition from BECTU for recognition of the union for the comp department. They announced that they will begin negotiations with BECTU, and that they intend to fight this bid for union recognition. They took no questions, and made no attempt to justify the excessive unpaid overtime in the VFX industry, or other issues that have made this recognition bid necessary.

What does this mean? It means IT’S ON! Yes – this is really happening!

Whilst MPC’s announcement that they intend to dispute the bid is somewhat disappointing, it’s no surprise either, and we were prepared for this. It came across as more of a delaying tactic than as a legitimate issue. We’ve got a fight ahead of us – but it’s a fight the union has fought before, and can win again. In gathering so many VFX workers and making this something that the VFX companies can no longer ignore, we’ve already achieved a major victory!

We need you! To all VFX workers here in London that have been quietly hoping for something to happen, well… THIS IS IT! Now is the time to get on board! This is our best and only chance at finally getting the change our industry so badly needs.

We’ve been overwhelmed with hundreds of responses to our VFX petition, from every corner of the UK VFX industry. Now is the time to act.

We would like to invite all VFX workers in all departments at MPC and other VFX companies in London to get on board. If you want to see change in our industry and you’re interested in getting something going at your company or your department, then get in touch – we’d love to help.

This is our moment! This is what we’ve all been working for! Join now and help finally change the industry for the better.


Come to the Thursday VFX Lunchtime Meetup today, 1:00-2:00 in the food court at The Plaza, Oxford Street to find out more! We’ve got lots to talk about! Look for the green flag!


Watch this space and @VFXUnionUK on Twitter for all the latest updates on this exciting and rapidly developing situation!

What’s new in VFX?

A new article is out from Cinefex that asks some visual effects experts what’s new in Visual Effects.  I’m sure a lot of it is stuff we’ve experienced ourselves at work.  Most notably was a lot of talk about VR and interactive experiences.

Oculus Rift: A Look Inside the future

Here is the article: What’s New in VFX Cinefex

What do you guys think?