UK VFX Union featured on fxguide podcast!

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Paul Evans, the BECTU national official for the vfx branch and Joe Pavlo, the vfx branch chair had a chat with Jeff Heuser from the fxguide podcast to talk about their work in the UK to establish a Visual Effects Union. A lot of ground was covered from the explosive growth of the vfx union in the UK over the last year, to some of the issues facing people working in the visual effects industry and a look ahead at the future of the union in the visual effects industry.

listen to the episode here:

fxpodcast #303: UK Union update

We discuss the latest info about UK visual effects artists who are seeking union representation. Joe Pavlo (artist) and Paul Evans (BECTU) are our guests. Unpaid overtime, fear, social media, how to organize, collusion, opting out of overtime… just a few of the things Joe and Paul discuss with our Jeff Heusser

also available to download in iTunes

Inspired? Why not come along to the Thursday VFX LunchMeet every week from 1-2pm in the courtyard at St. Anne’s Church, Wardour Street (nr. Shaftesbury Avenue) and find our more about the vfx union – or just cut to the chase and join the union right now!

Large BECTU survey points to serious concerns from MPC’s visual effects workers

full article on BECTU’s website here

Bare necessities missing for VFX workers at MPC

“Moving Picture Company appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm” says BECTU, the media and entertainment union.

In a large-scale survey of people who have worked at London’s Moving Picture Company (MPC), conducted in the week leading up to the UK premiere ofJungle Book, BECTU has found a workforce, both past and present, that has serious concerns about the company’s coercive working culture, with widespread complaints from world-class VFX artists about pressures to work excessive unpaid overtime.

In late 2015, BECTU started actively recruiting at MPC, which provided VFX services on Jungle Book.  In campaigning for union recognition, members were taken aback by management’s hostility to this move; recruitment literature was removed and discussion about the union was banned in staff forums. Thankfully, part of the company’s attempts to keep the union out resulted in small improvements to management attitudes towards their staff, but – as BECTU’s survey shows – significant concerns remain.

In particular, members were conscious of unfair pressure resulting from the company’s culture of short-term contracts. MPC has an employee-profile that dramatically contradicts UK Screen’s claims that “91% of the UK VFX workforce have a permanent contract.”

Short term contracts increase workplace pressures

Instead, MPC appears to have an overwhelming preference for short-term contracts, with a surprising number of individual respondents (in free-text comments) making a direct link between this and the climate of pressure from managers, particularly on unpaid overtime.

Significant numbers of staff were prepared to say that:

  • MPC is not interested in a fair dialogue with independently-minded employees
  • they have little faith in the ‘Crew Forum’ as a means of resolving problems fairly (current employees were significantly sceptical)
  • work-life balance for VFX artists at MPC is often very bad.

There were widespread fears around:

  • refusing to work unpaid overtime
  • raising legitimate grievances with management
  • management finding out about individuals’ BECTU membership.

There was a significant number of respondents who complained of “unwelcome pressure” or feeling harassed by colleagues / management, and an even larger number of respondents who said that they knew of colleagues who had experienced such pressure. A very clear majority of the respondents who knew about unwelcome pressure believed that reporting such behaviour would be frowned upon (in many cases because management were the ones behaving badly).

Paul Evans, BECTU national official, supporting VFX workers said:

“These results are very disturbing and we hope that MPC will agree to work with us on a full independent survey on this subject so that it can be dealt with properly. The VFX sector is now a central part of the UK film industry. It is astonishing that most survey respondents were frightened that MPC would find out that they are members of a trade union, and that there was a widespread fear of raising concerns, reporting unwelcome pressure and asking for a responsive management.

“MPC appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm – particularly the way the business is structured to pressure people into working long hours without being paid for overtime. In a few clear cases, respondents reported direct bullying and intimidation from managers.

“If the UK VFX industry is to retain the talent that it needs to survive and grow, it needs to be a race to the top, and not to the bottom. We need London to lose its reputation for excessive unpaid overtime, and this forms part of BECTU’s wider campaign to ensure that everyone in the film industry is paid for all of the hours that they work.”

 

BECTU is the media and entertainment union for the UK

read the full article on BECTU’s website here

 

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 April 14th  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

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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 http://vfxforum.org – 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!)

 

“This story only highlights what MPC wants people to believe”

A recent article in ‘Variety’ about the London company is being met with a storm of protest from within the VFX community. Commenters complain about a toxic corporate environment and describe deplorable working conditions.

The Moving Picture Company (MPC) is said to have “managed to fly high without losing sight of crucial details, notably its people.”

Which drew comments in response that include:

“Having worked at MPC I have to say that this story is hilariously inaccurate….in fact it’s the complete opposite of reality. Within the VFX industry they are known to be treat their artists awfully.”

“This story only highlights what MPC wants people to believe. Anyone who has worked there or knows someone who has, knows this story to be a PR exercise and nothing more.”

Jennifer Wolfe writes on AWN:
“The real news is the 135+ comments that have been posted in Variety’s comments section, most of them describing deplorable working conditions, including massive amounts of overtime without pay and a toxic corporate environment.”

And VFX Soldier comments:
“MPC is sort of the Walmart of the VFX industry: It’s a powerful company that treats it’s workers just poorly enough to where they can get the most amount of work out of them.”

Readers who commented on the article generally regarded the story as a “puff piece”. Reportedly, huge weekly workloads of between 60 to 100 hours are “always risking deadlines and quality.” Commentary ranges from outrage to anecdotal evidence.

“100 hour and over workweeks are the NORM… not just sometimes, all the time. People blocking the exits so you cannot leave until 3am dailies are completed is the NORM. Does this sound like a decent workplace? They BLACKLIST.”

“Talk about management practices, blacklists, bullying, things they’ve done which is illegal
such as not keeping track of OT”

“Absolute nightmare. So many broken promises. Underpaid undervalued and treated like a slave. I was ill with stress multiple times, got RSI and entered work each morning with gut wrenching anxiety.”

“Most of these stories are true. MPCs working hours are beyond unrealistic and disgusting.”

“This puff piece was just the straw that broke the camels back. If Benson already knows what it’s actually like working there and is signing off on this kind of PR fluff then that’s depressing. If he doesn’t it’s just worrying.”

“Talk to your employees! Talk to the staff, to the artists, to the technicians. Let them come to your office regularly, they don’t bite: you’ll be immensely surprised of what goes on. And believe me: you’ll company will finally make proper use of its workforce and make way more money.”

One commenter encourages the readers “to try and improve the job and an industry that, reading the comments here, you clearly still care about.”

Late Friday the number of comments has reached 300.


LINKS:
variety.com/2014/film/news/moving-picture-co-finds-valuing-artists-is-the-best-effect-1201346561/

awn.com/news/workplace-conditions-mpc-called-poisonous

vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/varietys-mpc-puff-piece-reveals-vfx-industry-woes-few-solutions/