On Tuesday 29th May, Channel 5 News Ran a special report on the economic and health realities of people working in London’s VFX Industry (Dominic Reynolds reporting)
Where Union’s work elsewhere (TUC as an example)
What exactly can a VFX Union do for you? It can be easy to get lost when it comes to understanding EXACTLY what a Union will do to change your life for the better… Some come to the conclusion that things are fine how they are, accept the current state of affairs and move on like things have been doing for some years. Some are still curious what the benefits are. We can all agree that things can be much better!
To help demystify what a Union could do for VFX, let’s look at strong Unions that are thriving today and not just BECTU.
The TUC, one of the world’s largest Unions that supports 49 individual member Unions, consisting of 5.5 MILLION working people is a great example. In an article with Paul Nowark, the National Organiser at the time of publication, outlines quite simply why a Union is beneficial for BOTH employee and employers.
Here is a breakdown of his points regarding the TUC from the article:
- A Union ALWAYS has a say: The first advantage of Union membership is to “make sure changes are negotiated rather than imposed”. So a Union has a say over any massive changes (excessive unpaid overtime for example) the industry might face.
- +15.6% more: Union members are shown to get paid an average of 15.6% more than non-unionised workers according to official government figures.
- Professional support: Much like BECTU, Unions offer their members advice, support and representation if they have issues with their employer. No one is ever alone or bullied into situations they shouldn’t ever have to face.
- Benefits: There are all sorts of other spin-off benefits, too, ranging from financial advice and insurance deals to training opportunities.
- Learning and Training: The Open University, for example, offers a discount on courses to union members for TUC members.
- Any drawbacks? There is the cost of a membership. A typical subscription costs £11 a month for one of the big unions. A small price to pay.
- One for all, All for one! Joining a union, rather like voting, is one of those things that only makes a big difference if lots and lots of other people do it too.
- Support no matter what: If you decide to join a union and your workplace is not already unionised, for example, you’ll get support if you have a grievance or are in danger of being dismissed, but your union won’t be able to sit down with your employer to negotiate salary and conditions on your behalf. It is only if 50% or more of the workforce are members that the employer is legally obliged to recognise the union, so the answer may be to rally your workmates to the cause.
- Getting an employers response: “If people join, that gives us the opportunity to go and talk to the employer. The more people are members and active, the more likely we are to get a positive response.” says Nowak
So that’s the TUC, one of the biggest Unions in the world on how their current Unions work.
That’s all very well and good but VFX is different to other industries, right? A Union will end up hurting our employers and they’ll move to other countries where it is cheap! No brainer!
Hold on there… a Union can be just as beneficial for them as it can be for us and that is what we need them to understand. We aren’t here to turn the clothes on their backs to rags. Far from it! Now, here is a small breakdown found online showing how a VFX Union will make our employers MORE efficient and MORE money by a Unionised workforce.
We are all in it together! How Unions work for Employers too, not just employee’s
Here are a few key points how Unions help employers:
- Assurance of a stable and well-trained workforce: Unions often have their own programs to train employees in their trades as listed above, relieving employers from the cost of training inexperienced workers. Well-trained employees create better and safer work conditions. In return, employers have fewer days lost because of work-related injuries or illnesses… saving them lots of money!
- Predictable Costs: Labor contracts give employers the ability to more accurately predict future operation costs for fixed time periods. This makes it much easier for the employer to control costs, develop product operating strategies, plan for expansion and invest in the future of the company and its employees. Employers will have less employee turnover and should have union assurance that more workers will be available if needed. Negotiating a contract with one party, the union, is much easier than having to negotiate a wage and job description with each individual employee, also helping to predict costs.
- Help employers communicate better with staff: Unions will help employers and employees communicate better when issues arise with the aim to keep both parties happy. With this attitude, staff turnover will reduce and help the team mature into a well established well-oiled company.
There you have it, a snippet of how Unions are working elsewhere and hopefully you can get a good idea of what a VFX Union could blossom in to. We all need to get together and make this awesome industry even more amazing.
Join the VFX Union at BECTU today!
Avengers Infinity War wins the box office with spectacular visual effects!
Even though you couldn’t have missed the hype, Avengers Infinity War is out to take over the world’s box offices. In just it’s first weekend opening it earned an estimated $630m (£457m) worldwide and it made over $1.5 billion globally in just 18 total days of release, becoming one of the top worldwide releases of all time. With its stunning $75M opening in China yesterday, it seems there’s no stopping this visual effects juggernaut!
As with any Marvel movie, it would be have been an awkward green screened film without help from VFX on virtually every shot. The list of of VFX studios around the world who worked on it is many, as are the credits of the artists who worked on it (at least the ones who got included!) Framestore, ILM, DNeg, and Cinesite were a great part of the vendors based in London, once again showcasing this town’s creative muscle.
Kudos to all the VFX peeps for their hard and amazing work!
Why is it that women in VFX with equal qualifications, skills and experience are paid less than men?
After last summer’s BBC report sparked an uproar on gender pay gap there has be a new surge on finding out what really is the gap. But that’s the BBC, surely the Visual Effects Industry is nothing like that, right?!
Unfortunately that is not the case. These are the official reports:
“Women’s mean* hourly rate is 19.8% lower than men’s
when comparing mean hourly rates, women earn 80p for every £1 that men earn.
Women’s median** hourly rate is 22.8% lower than men’s
when comparing median hourly rates, women earn 77p for every £1 that men earn.”
“Women’s mean hourly rate is 14% lower than men’s
when comparing mean hourly rates, women earn 86p for every £1 that men earn.
Women’s median hourly rate is 16.4% lower than men’s
when comparing median hourly rates, women earn 84p for every £1 that men earn.”
Industrial Light & Magic
“Women’s mean hourly rate is 25.5% lower than men’s
when comparing mean hourly rates, women earn 74p for every £1 that men earn.
Women’s median hourly rate is 29.2% lower than men’s
when comparing median hourly rates, women earn 71p for every £1 that men earn.”
Moving Picture Company
“Women’s mean hourly rate is 23.8% lower than men’s
when comparing mean hourly rates, women earn 76p for every £1 that men earn.
Women’s median hourly rate is 28.3% lower than men’s
when comparing median hourly rates, women earn 72p for every £1 that men earn.”
These were the large VFX companies in the UK that provided the data (all companies in the UK with 250 employees or more are required by law to provide gender pay gap data) – smaller studios were not required by law to provide this data. In their reports, each of the four companies above – except ILM – made pledges of bridging the gap by taking different steps such us diversity promotion and supporting women – yet none of them addressed the real issue – why are women in VFX getting paid less than men?
After all these reports and pledges, will companies act on that and start paying their female staff equally? Will they address the underlying problems in VFX that make this disparity possible? We will have to wait until the next report for hard evidence of their intentions. In the meantime, it is time to face up to facts in the visual effects industry and for us all to keep up the pressure for facilities to do something about their gender pay gap problem. BECTU, the VFX Union is committed to equality in the workplace. By joining the union you can support this cause and help make the VFX industry a stronger and more ethical industry.
Need inspiration? Here’s a couple of things to pump you up! Take a few minutes to watch Stacey Smith’s TED talk in 2016 and Frances McDormand’s 2018 Oscar acceptance speech which taught the world a new phrase: inclusion rider***.
Can the UK VFX facilities come up with an “inclusion rider” of their own? The VFX Union wants to see men and women paid equally based on their skills and experience and not their gender. By organising together, we can make this happen!
*The mean hourly rate is the average hourly wage across the entire organization so the mean gender pay gap is a measure of the difference
between women’s mean hourly wage and men’s mean hourly wage.
**The median hourly rate is calculated by ranking all employees from the highest paid to the lowest paid,
and taking the hourly wage of the person in the middle; so the median gender pay gap is the difference
between women’s median hourly wage (the middle paid woman) and men’s median hourly wage (the middle paid man).
*** “An “inclusion rider” is a clause that an actor can insist be inserted in their contract that requires cast and crew on a film to meet a certain level of diversity. ” (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/mar/05/what-is-an-inclusion-rider-frances-mcdormand-oscars-2018)
Official goverment website:
Moving Picture Company
The vfxAssemble campaign finished on 10th November and we’d like to give a big shout out to all those who took part in it. Thanks to all of you out there who believed in it!
Also, a very special thanks to everyone in the VFX branch committee, our VFX branch chair Joe Pavlo, and the BECTU Branch rep Paul Evans and everyone else who worked on vfxAssemble for their tireless efforts to make our industry a better place for every one of us.
While we didn’t reach 50% membership at any of the four big London VFX facilities: (Double Negative, Framestore, ILM and MPC), hundreds and hundreds of you did believe in a better vfx industry and did sign up for vfxAssemble.
What Have We Achieved?
Because of all of you, vfxAssemble has started conversations and raised awareness and we are now a stronger VFX union than before. The VFX branch of BECTU is now the biggest and most active visual effects union anywhere in the world!
Building a movement isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly takes a lot of work. We’re hoping that a whole bunch of you that got inspired by the vfxAssemble campaign will join the union now and become active in helping to grow this movement.
Even when the progress is in small steps, it’s plain for all to see that what we are doing is moving things forward, changing attitudes and changing our industry for the better. One movement at a time, one campaign at a time, we are creating a space for the VFX union.
What we who have joined the union envisage in the not too distant future is an industry where VFX workers don’t have to lead unsociable and unhealthy lives. Where women working in the industry are not victims of geek sexism and an equal voice and equal pay isn’t left to chance. Where a juniors pay doesn’t average out to below the living wage because of unlimited unpaid overtime. Where film credits are guaranteed for those who work on the visual effects. Where more experienced artists do not have to fear being singled out and blacklisted for wanting a better and fairer industry. Where vfx workers can feel confident that their skills and experience are valued by the London visual effects industry. Where they can all feel that the industry they work for is also working for them.
We Want To Hear From You
The revolutionary vfxAssemble crowdsourcing model for union recruitment has been a huge leap forward for unionisation in our industry. We think the idea that people can pledge to join the union without signing up until enough of their colleagues pledge to join too is a brilliant strategy and we are going to keep working at it and refining it until we are successful. The light bulb is a great idea In fact, it’s become symbolic of all great ideas, but Thomas Edison made a lot of light bulbs that didn’t work before he got it right. We’re going to keep working at this until we get it right too! Help us make it even better next time around by taking the survey.
We don’t know how long it will take but full unionisation of visual effects is inevitable. The truth is, in the short time that the VFX union has been active we have seen marked improvements in the workplace and the London VFX industry has never been busier. There’s no need to fear unionisation. We are already making things better and it will be only be a matter of time before VFX workers across London collectively choose to assemble a majority to take our industry to the next level and help make it better and stronger for everyone.
Until then, and beyond, it’s never too late to sign up!
Will London VFX workers be able to take their destiny into their own hands?
Soon we will find out. Tonight is the deadline to sign up for vfxAssemble.com
If we succeed, you can rest assured that at least 50% of your colleagues at Industrial Light & Magic, Double Negative, Framestore and MPC will be fellow union members.
This would mark the beginning of a new era for London VFX. Together, we would have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix the many problems that afflict our industry. We would be able to look after each other and help out fellow colleagues who are less fortunate than us.
If we fail, companies bosses across Soho will cheer, as they will be able to continue doing business without taking the wellbeing of their workforce into account.
This will mean more one-week notice periods, more bare minimum redundancy pay, more juniors earning below the national minimum wage when you factor in overtime, more seven-figure earnings for managing directors and CEOs, more shutting down of departments in the pursuit of cheaper labour. More of the same.
Most of us VFX workers are on short term contracts. We all have rent or mortgages to pay. Some of us have families to support. Our fears of being exposed as union members and singled out are legitimate and real. Our fears of being unable to find employment or watch helpless as all the work moves to cheaper labour markets are understandable. But it won’t be by turning a blind eye to these problems, or keeping to oneselves, that we will have a chance to fix them.
Today is the day. Sign up now.