Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another fine mess...

I have mentioned in previous posts the depths to which industrial relations have descended in film and television production. A bad case - if ever an example were needed - of the tail wagging the dog.

I'm posting below the letter issued by Screen Producers Ireland to Irish film and television crew members.

Bear in mind, as you read it, that the interests of the few are not the same as the interests of the many. A statement that applies as much to producers as it does to crew members.

Page 1 - click to enlarge

Page 2 - click to enlarge

Page 3 - click to enlarge

Previously on this issue...
More Shop Talk
A Plea For the Facts
Minimum Rates
Closing the Shop


Anonymous said...

I have recieved this letter from SPI who represent our Producers. I am a crew member who was initially the union but have not been for some years. I have been aware for many years that I am a typical film technician and I have also been aware that I am in the majority. The fact that the producers body SPI signed up to this without realizing that only a minority of the work force are union members is an admition of how out of touch with the work force they are. This clause 3 that they are that seems to be a major bone of contention is really mute. Would I like to protection of being in a union that protects my wages and working conditions? Yes. Would imlike to be a member of SIPTU? No. Not as long as the representatives have no expierience in the film industry. It has been put to me that SIPTU offered to take clause 3 out of the agreement if SPInwould register the agreement in the labour court and they refused. If this is true I would ask why? This Creative Capital report was commissioned by the IFB with tax payers money. There is a tumour that it was done by a committee of producers. If so why did the technicians have no imput?
In closing I was surprised that SPI would come out with a letter like this. I think it was I'll advised and only shows that they are vulnerable to forces beyond there control. I am also surprised that reputable producers put there name to it. By the way they like the union members are also in the minority.

irish film portal said...

My understanding is that a particular cohort of producers (perhaps as few as 10% of SPI's members) badly need to have a crewing rate card with which deal with overseas producers.

There are, however, particular regulatory and legal difficulties with worker organisation when very many of those workers are, in effect, self-employed contractors.

This has been common knowledge in the sector for many years and SIPTU seemed to have largely given up on active worker organisation among freelance workers because the issues remained unresolved.

Somehow, in a final rush to conclude some agreement or crewing rate card, SPI seemed to take the view that it would effectively become a recruiting agent for any unions signing up to the agreement. Thereby creating a 'closed shop' with mandatory union membership for all crew. This is not enforceable and could, possibly, expose a member producer to legal action from persons given work or persons not given work on the basis of their union status. There are additional issues around data protection which, I suspect, might cause the Data Commissioner to raise an eyebrow.

Other than that, words fail me.

Anonymous said...

It's important to get SIPTU's view on this issue.

Note that the SPI letter states "In discussing the implementation of this clause [Clause 3] SIPTU took the view that any crew member who is not a member of the union, should not be employed on productions being made by SPI members".

No evidence is supplied to back up this statement. For example, is there a letter to this effect in existence? Even if there was, there is no such provision in the final Agreement - which is the only thing that matters - all that Clause 3 effectively states is that *anyone seeking to be covered by the Agreement* should be a member of SIPTU - entirely logical, since the Agreement is between SIPTU and SPI.

The "views" of any party are neither here nor there - any objections can only be based upon what is actually written in the Agreement, and there are obviously procedures for resolving disputes, as mentioned in the letter.

I cannot see how any (alleged) attempt to "force" union membership could possibly get past the LRC as this is outside the provisions of the Agreement and must actually be illegal.

As for the difficulty of organising freelance workers, bear in mind that unions are no more than a collection of people who (in theory) seek to protect and advance their conditions and quality of employment. It is up to people to *organise themselves* as they wish; where there are problems in labour organisations it is because people want to do their own thing rather than engage in genuine co-operation - a symptom of the wider hypocrisy and "me feinism" that has plagued Irish society for years.

irish film portal said...

The full text of 'Clause Three: Recognition of Parties to this agreement'
SIPTU accepts that the recruitment of Shooting Crew employees is the sole prerogative of the Production Company and SIPTU commits to allow all shooting crew members recruited by the company to become Union members.
For its part the Company agrees to recognise SIPTU as the sole negotiating body for all shooting crew workers covered by this agreement. It shall be a pre entry condition of employment for all shooting crew covered by this Agreement that they become and remain benefit members of SIPTU.
SIPTU acknowledges that the Company will retain the right to engage non-Irish resident crew as part of its obligations under co-production and financing arrangements, and that those crew will not be required to become members of SIPTU.
Any dispute which may arise in relation to any aspect of this Clause will be processed by the Parties in accordance with the Disputes Procedure (Clause 7) of this Agreement

This is the crucial line - It shall be a pre entry condition of employment for all shooting crew covered by this Agreement that they become and remain benefit members of SIPTU

So, before a crew member gets a job they have to become a member of the union, even though if they are not a member of the union they are not covered by the agreement? It's not enforceable - but efforts were being made to enforce it on shoots.

SIPTU didn't respond to queries I put to them back in March.

The difficulty with organising freelance workers is that they are viewed legally as independent contractors and as such they are expected to compete for work rather than 'price fix' their services between themselves. For another example, the Irish Medical Organisation has run into similar issues representing general practitioners' interests.

The problem here is the whole outmoded approach - not mé féinism.

Anonymous said...

The way I would read that is that any members covered by this agreement must be members of SIPTU, which seems logical. It doesn't say that anyone working in the industry must be a member. Is it true that the Unions offered to remove clause 3 from the agreement if the agreement was registered with the labour court, but SPI refused to register it? If that is the truth. Their motives seem dubious to me.

irish film portal said...

I believe legal opinion is that that clause 3 is not enforceable, whatever about agreement and co-operation on the matter between SPI and SIPTU.

If a worker says, 'No, I'm don't wish to become a member of SIPTU.' what happens? What happens if they add, 'And furthermore, I do not wish you to pass information about my employment to anyone other than those that you are legally obliged as an employer to inform'?

Otherwise how could the worker avoid the risk of black-listing that could indirectly arise from Clause 15 - which stipulates inter alia that a union representative must be supplied with a cast and crew list four weeks ahead of the start of a shoot.

For anyone who thinks that unofficial black-listing is far-fetched they should be aware that some crew members have felt intimidated in recent months and that there is widespread ill-feeling because of it.

Who gets work and who doesn't get work is a hugely contentious issue in the business. Some people believe - irrespective of the quality of their work or their contribution to a production - that they are entitled to work. It has given rise recently to unofficial pickets and, I am told, at least one injunction and calls to the Garda.

This wouldn't happen in other lines of work and it arises only because there is an anachronistic belief that there should be a limitation on the number of workers in each grade, that every worker is of the same expertise and disposition, that each worker is entitled to a job in their turn, that employers are obliged to operate this system, and that every employment circumstance requires a requisite number of workers in each grade.

It's 2011 - it's well past time for SPI, SIPTU and the other unions to reinvent this particular wheel instead of giving it a shoddy remould. Start with total transparency and good independent legal advice paid for collectively by all the parties.

irish film portal said...

I should have added (in italics) to my second reply above - So, before a crew member gets a job they have to become a member of the union unless they are non-Irish resident, even though if they are not a member of the union they are not covered by the agreement? It's not enforceable - but efforts were being made to enforce it on shoots.

So, if it's not compulsory then why does it not apply, equally, to Irish and non-Irish resident crew members? Especially when those non-Irish crew members are citizens of another EU Member State who, after all, share the same legal and regulatory framework for employment as ourselves?

Anonymous said...

I think you may have a touch of OCD when it comes to this clause 3. No one has replied to the question as tomthe offer of removing clause 3 if the agreement was registered in the LRC and the producers refused. Your statement that most workers are self employed is not correct. The revenue has criteria that determines this which is not met by most crew. That does not mean they are not self assessed. Just because you are self assessed does not mean you are self employed. Please try to give an objective view of this situation. The truth is a revolutionary act in times of deceit.

irish film portal said...

Leaving aside your diagnosis lets assume that any organisations of any kind may agree things between them. That's fine. But they can not legally oblige individual third parties to conform to what they have agreed. If 70%, or 50% or 10% of the workforce are not union members then they cannot be obliged to become union members.

As to the status of employees my understanding is that it may vary from shoot to shoot as to whather the same employees are treated as self assessed or otherwise.

My objective view, for what it's worth, is that it is very bad mess created together by SPI and SIPTU and that it serves nobody's best interests or the wider public interest.

Anonymous said...

I must say I still cannot see what the issue is. Nobody is being forced to join any union - Clause 3 merely clarifies that any crew member seeking to be covered by the agreement should be a member of the union that is party to the agreement; in this case, SIPTU.

The same would surely apply to SPI as well - a Producer who is not a member of SPI would not be able to avail of this agreement either.

There are other unions in the film industry (in fact SPI itself could be considered to be a type of union) and presumably they have some kind of agreement with SPI as well.

'Tis the silly season...

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. What a mess. Created by SPI and SIPTU. To what end? While both parties stroke their egos the only ones who will suffer are the actual people who work in the industry and get films made. Surely they deserve more than this. Then again they have been abused by Producers and ignored by the unions for so long that none of this is a surprise. It is about time that some one in Irish society did the right thing for a change. We could make a film about it and call it " The Miracle".

irish film portal said...

Maybe SPITU - The Movie would cover it.

irish film portal said...

Nobody is being forced to join any union...

Well, unfortunately not everybody sees it that way.