WORKERS who are employed in the production of documentaries often are expected to work 14, 15 or 16 hours a day for several days or even several weeks, back to back, BECTU has warned after conducting a special survey.
BECTU, the union which represents TV workers, has published the results of their survey entitled: ‘Factual TV production: Is it getting any better?’
The survey highlights deep-rooted problems effecting the workforce who are involved in the making of documentaries.
BECTU said: ‘Just 19% of respondents recognised an 11-hour day as “the norm”.
BECTU continued: ‘Drilling down into the additional comments offered by respondents, it’s clear that on set/location working hours remain the biggest problem area with freelances routinely contracted to work a 12-hour shooting day with the expectation that hours will far exceed this.
‘As a result, filming days, workers say, can run to 14, 15 or 16 hours for several days/weeks back-to-back.
‘The overwhelming consensus in the survey is that few employers make allowances for travel, prep, rig and de-rig time.’
BECTU says that the results of the survey show that those involved in editing the documentaries also suffer ‘excessive working hours’.
BECTU said: ‘Some employers insist that no overtime is paid, meaning that production staff can be called upon to extend their working day’.
One respondent commented: ‘The biggest issue here and for the majority of these questions, is that you are EXPECTED to work any hours that are considered necessary. It has become culturally unacceptable to moan, if you do you are then seen as a troublemaker. All you hear, from day one, is that there is no money to overnight, no money for food etc. You have to fight for every single penny.’
BECTU commented: ‘The workers’ voice on these issues contrasts markedly with the official company line.
‘Independent production companies asked by BECTU to back the 2013 Code of Practice maintained that they were comfortable with the way they treated their workforce and insisted that proper attention was paid to staff welfare.
‘It’s clear that current experience on the ground is very different, and worryingly so.
‘The Working Time Regulations, a health and safety measure first introduced into UK law in 1998, stipulate that daily rest of 11 hours between turns of duty is mandatory.
‘By extension, a maximum working day of 13 hours is implied in the worst-case scenario.
‘It’s clear from BECTU’s survey that some factual TV employers are not complying with the legislation and that this situation is set to continue as long as the regulations are poorly observed.
‘Interestingly, many respondents to the union’s survey believe their managers are ignorant of the regulations.’
One respondent commented: ‘Filming days for production staff (producers, directors, researchers, AP’s) would frequently involve a shorter than 11 hours break.’
BECTU continued: ‘As with the union’s survey in 2013, staff and freelances continue to be told that budgets are restricted, with independent producers seemingly attempting to pass some degree of responsibility for working conditions to their commissioners.’
Examining the issue of the length of the working week, BECTU said: ‘A patchy picture also emerges when the length of the working week is looked at.
‘BECTU’s Code of Practice recommends that the normal working week should be five days with 6th or 7th day working to be paid at a 1/5th of the weekly rate or compensated for with time off in lieu, according to the worker’s preference. What did respondents say?
‘24.5% said this “never” happens, whilst close to 22% said this was “always” the case, compared to 22% who said they recognised this practice “sometimes”.’
On the issue of health and safety, BECTU said: ‘We also asked respondents to comment on the extent to which health and safety risk assessments take account of lone working and crewing levels.
‘Whilst 27% of respondents said that this “always” happened, almost half of respondents point to a patchy observance of the requirements: 30.1% said this “sometimes” happened, whilst 18.7% said this happened “infrequently”.
‘10% of respondents replied “never” and 14% replied that they “didn’t know” what risk assessments were in place.
BECTU warns: ‘These are worrying statistics for production which often relies on self-shooters and which can take workers into unfamiliar environments, often at short notice.
‘Behind these figures, several respondents said that risk assessments are too often seen as tick-box exercises which bear little relation to steps taken in the field to address potential hazards prompted by lone-working or poor crewing levels.’
On this issue one respondent commented: ‘Risk assessments are often completed, but many lower level freelancers don’t feel confident in raising issues, ie after a long working day, runners don’t always feel comfortable with long drives home.
‘However, the likelihood of this being raised is minimal as there is constant pressure to just get on with things.’
Another said: ‘I’m a series producer now, so I find myself insisting on a ban on lone self-shooting. This is not always respected by executive producers, or indeed the shooters themselves!’
BECTU continued: ‘Asked whether they would like to see BECTU recognised by the employers to help the workforce to address workplace concerns, 91% of respondents said “yes” (1% said “no”, and 8% said they “didn’t know”).
‘Just 24% of respondents said they thought factual TV employers were open to discussing concerns about working practices.’
Under the headline: ‘A sector crying out for better conditions’ BECTU commented: ‘Asked what top three changes they’d like to see to improve their lot, there were recurring themes, amongst them: shorter working hours, better pay, set rates, better budgets, more realistic schedules taking account of demands on location and in post-production, pay for hours worked, better training, more staff, better management, use of more experienced staff, proper breaks, higher meal allowances, rest days, respect at work, a shift in the balance of power between commissioners and indies and a call for the sector to be regulated.’
Commenting overall on this year’s findings, Martin Spence, BECTU assistant general secretary, said: ‘In launching the survey we asked: Factual TV: Is it getting any better?
‘It’s clear from the results that working conditions are not improving.
‘Observance of basic provisions to deliver a safer working environment linked to a commitment to avoid overwork and to permit workers to give their best, is very uneven.
‘The signals are that the number of employers who could be classed as decent are heavily outweighed by those who abuse the insecurity felt by freelances and in so doing create a working culture which pays scant attention to staff welfare.
‘Last year when we asked employers to endorse our Code of Practice very few agreed to do so, despite the flexibility within it.’