CORONAVIRUS & THE WORKFORCE: TIME TO JOIN A TRADE UNION
BY ENYA MENICHINI & JOE LANGABEER, FOUNDERS OF ART-RISING
Coronavirus has exposed massive holes in the artistic industry, and the government has offered little support, as reported by The Stage in the article Coronavirus: Half of arts workers borrowing to survive crisis – BECTU. Artists are now relying on bank loan to survive the crisis. Most people are aware that this is a short-term solution that can only produce long-term problems. However, the solution has never been clearer: the only way to protect workers’ rights and livelihoods is to join a union. In this article, we will examine the catastrophic events that have unfolded as a consequence of COVID-19 and the potential impacts it will have on workers. The focus will then be on the benefits of joining a union and the need for representation within the workplace. When this crisis ends, there can be no going back.
The Guardian’s article UK theatres in 'high jeopardy' as doors remain closed amid pandemic presents a list all the leading figures in the theatre industry, and expresses the concerns of possible closures and job losses. The furlough scheme has been designed to keep some industry workers afloat, but that will not hold if the economic conditions worsen for other industries. Rishi Sunak announced that the employers must contribute to the furlough scheme from August. Even if the numbers have not been released yet, it is safe to say that theatres are likely to be the last to open and will have to apply the hardest measures to implement social distancing. Theatres that have already been hit the hardest are the subsidised and charity funded ones, including the Old Vic group which have suggested that “every theatre has faced a complete cliff edge in terms of its income.” Nuffield Southampton Theatre has also gone into administration, which shows that even the subsidized sector, funded by the Arts Council, cannot co-exist without major funding support. At Art-Rising, we will continue to argue for the commercial and subsidized sector to have total state-ownership so that artistic values come before profit. However, it is not easy to achieve that as grassroots led organisation alone. An important and decisive factor will come when the industrial challenges approach the workforce, leading to strike action propelled by glooming threats of redundancies.
A way to challenge redundancies and mass layoffs is for the staff to join a trade union and help combating the impending job losses. BECTU is a union organisation that represents freelancers, technical crew, and front of house staff. It currently has 40,000 members and is trying to argue the rules for return to work policies. It is also committed to hold to account the government for their failure to protect creative freelancers. Equity is another union, specifically designed for actors and counting currently 43,000 members, that is trying to investigate better ways to support performers and deliver criticism to the government for its failure to protect them. The governments agenda is not to focus on the economic livelihoods of the creative industry, and that is why it is necessary to join a union and fight for workers’ rights and conditions.
Over the next few months, Art-Rising will be looking to create campaigns to support workers who are suffering with potential job losses and to hold the rich and powerful producers to account. If you would like to participate then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are now approaching the time when we all must fight for our livelihoods and creative practices. If you feel that joining a union is not enough, then make sure to email your regional full-time official and get information on how to become a union representative. That way, we can make sure that there is representation across the board, and no one gets left behind in the workplace.