Monday, February 1, 2010

3% right... 97% wrong

I am told that producer/union talks have irretrievably broken down - or crawled to a halt, depending how one interprets things. 'Partnership' negotiations between the various unions and producers have been underway for (has it really been) at least three years. Now a base rate increase of 3% is being demanded by some of the workforce.

Meanwhile, the bad-mouthing of Irish union practices has become even more common in the UK, and it was always a bitter susurration in the background. Despite the numbers of Irish crew members working regularly in the UK (the East is East sequel is a good example) there is still a strange antipathy to the Irish industry in the most chauvinistic corners of the UK film and TV industry.

Some of this is plain jealousy, and the rest comes of a belief among some British producers that they are shanghaied by Irish crews at every opportunity. The production deal, they say, always works out more expensive than initially quoted. This is why it was so important to set down a rate for the job, to which all the technicians and craft workers would adhere.

As an observer it seems to me that each side of the table bears some of the blame for the failure to settle the matter. Mutual distrust is legendary in the industry and it isn't helpful that there is a lack of transparency around the workings of Section 481.

Many technicians and craft workers believe that this lack of transparency hides considerable financial activity, and fee income, which does not appear on a budget sheet. Producers maintain that this activity cannot appear on a budget sheet, that the regulations forbid it since, strictly speaking, it is not production activity.

Needless to say, where a project is a low/no budget indigenous film these issues do not arise. The outcome is a stand-off, i.e. a continuation of the uneasy working environment, but with disputes and stoppages becoming ever more likely. It is the folly of self-interest (on all sides) taken to ludicrous extremes and it gives competitors a stick with which to beat the Irish film and independent TV production sector.

In an ideal world the Film Board and DAST would have had this issue successfully arbitrated long ago. However, since the Board has contracted with producers (effectively as a partner) for so many years it has lost the critical distance from which it could have knocked everyone's heads together.

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