No to zero-cost labour: part II

23 Apr

Do you remember BECTU and London Dream’s tribunal ruling which said that unpaid internships are illegal?

BECTU (The Media and Entertainment Union) received much criticism by independent workers in the film industry about this legal action, some of which came from Shooting People, the independent filmmakers network. After months of low intensity warfare through their websites and blogs, the two organisations finally decided to have a public debate and an upfront discussion on internships, freelabour and the limits of applying the National Minimum Wage legislation to independent cultural projects.

Some Carrot Workers attended the discussion and were happy to find many points of contact and shared struggles between filmmaking and the arts:  the issue of unpaid independent labour, the legal grey area of freelancing and internships in independent projects, the jarring relationship between ‘creative’ work and the right to wages, the question of individual authorship and how to create legal and organisational structures where collective decisions are taken about a ‘product’ that is the result of collective labour.

The event was titled:

“Shooting yourself in the foot? A Debate about Low Budget Collaborations and the National Minimum Wage”

Working for free is the only way for new entrants to get a foot in the door of the film and television industry but are you shooting yourself in the foot?

Jess Search from Shooting People and Martin Spence, assistant general secretary of BECTU, will be among the key speakers to address these issues. They will be joined by Benetta Adamson (TV-Wrap) and Chris Jones (co-author The Guerilla Film-makers Handbook). The debate will be chaired by Stephen Overell, associate director, the Work Foundation.

The full debate is now available on YouTube:

Apart from the inspiring idea of thinking through a ‘creative’ cooperative model for cultural work (Bectu’s working on it, apparently),  in the course of the evening someone said that cinema is a hybrid, a combination of art and commerce – well, we strongly disagree!

This distinction once again relegates art to the romantic idea of free expression and unquantifiable passion that emotionally and conceptually justifies much exploitation in the cultural sector.  Art too is labour: when will we finally see an intern winning a court case against exploitative work conditions in the arts?

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