Bectu audio content producer union meeting - A transcript
(photo of headphones with a yellow background. I'm sorry about all the basic af stock photos I use in these blog posts btw)
Earlier in the year, members of the audio community came together to create a survey about unionising. After circulating the survey, we brought the key points raised to Paddy Emond of Bectu. Here's a transcript.
(Side note: The bectu audio content production is now open and accepting members. Join here and make sure you specify that you want to join the audio content production branch in your application form!)
Paddy Emond- Bectu Rep
Sarah Myles- Runs RISE & SHINE and freelance podcast producer
Helen Zaltzman- Makes independent podcasts including The Allusionist and Answer Me This
Isis Thompson- Freelance producer
Lily Ames- Set up the UK Audio Network and head of production at Chalk & Blade
Fatuma Khaireh- Podcast producer at Chalk & Blade
Sam Robinson- Audio producer working currently with Blinkist also had a hand in developing UKAN
Lisa Hack- Audio producer, associate lecturer in Radio at Goldsmiths and Organiser at the Multitrack Audio Fellowship
Shanida Scotland- Head of film at Doc Society and an audio producer
Sarah: Hi everyone. Thank you for coming to the webinar this evening. So this is all about getting our say in about what the audio community and industry needs in a union. We've brought together some community voices to help facilitate this. They also have created a survey which was circulated around the audio community a few weeks ago.
The aim of today is to basically put some of those surveys responses to our bectu rep Paddy. So Paddy, can I get you to introduce yourself, please?
Paddy: Yeah, sure. So my name is Paddy Emond I'm, what's called an organising official I work for bectu the trade union. Bectu is the union for creative workers in the UK. We cover a range of occupations, people who work in theatres, film, TV, people work for the BBC on staff level and that's freelancers and employees. My job is first of all, to organize workers who work in these sectors. And second of all, it's also to offer casework and support and employment law advice to people in these areas.
Sarah: Before we get into that survey questions, maybe you could just explain a bit about what a union is and what a union can potentially do.
Paddy: So I suppose if you take it back to the bare bones of what a union is, it's a pretty simple concept.
It's a group of workers in a certain industry or a certain sector or a certain workplace. It could be as localized as that. who band together in order to facilitate change, to give themselves a sense of ownership about how their workplace or the sector is run. Now, how that's done is different for all unions.
We organize on a predominantly freelance basis, or certainly I do in the film and TV sector. So the way we do that is we publish rate guidance. We give advice on contracts, freelance contracts. There's all sorts of ways that we do that. For different unions, it's different..
Sarah: Amazing. So here's some of the big issues that came up in the survey. I'll just list them:
- Defining roles and responsibilities
-Credit in work
-Becoming a company,
-Safety, especially around COVID.
so that's quite a few things to get through. Maybe Lily, do you want to go first?
Lily: Yeah. So I'll just kick it off by talking about rates. I think that's definitely a huge feedback we got from the community and something that obviously, through the work that I've been doing with UKAN, have been hearing about from way early on.
Through UKAN, we did a rate survey and a rate card, and the point of this was just really to see what the kind of average was. And, to get a sense of are people being paid below average. It wasn't intended to set the industry standard per se.
Something that comes up a lot is just day rates. How to set rates that compete with the US, how to charge for projects and how to negotiate your rate when you're told “here's a podcast….. produce. It doesn't matter how many days it'll take” Paddy how can the union help with this?
Paddy: This is a massive issue, in the freelance world, particularly, I think what happens is in industries like yours, you've got a lot of young and inexperienced people who are really keen to work in the area, but they move into the industry without a firm understanding of what they should be charging for their services that often leads to exploitation on payments for people who are new and inexperienced and also for more experienced people. It means that those individuals get their wages undercut and it becomes a race to the bottom. And it leads to lower rates. And that's something that certainly we've seen in film and TV previously. In terms of what the union can do about it.
Rate guidance is our key to this. So if we get this branch up and running, as I think we should, I believe that on day one, the first thing we should be doing is getting a working group together and decide what are our rates for the year ahead? What is the bare minimum that individuals should be charging for their services?
Now that alone isn't is not enough because you can publish rates and people go great. And then just ignore them. What you've got to do then start fostering new norms within the industry. So you've got to be calling out companies who are paying significantly below the rates. You've got to be encouraging people. You've got to be engaging with young people in the industry and telling them, look, this isn't what you should be earning. You should be earning X for Y. And I think the best thing about the union is that it's done in an ultimately very democratic way. So the way the branch would be structured is I wouldn't be in the branch.
I personally wouldn't be, A decision-maker in how it works. We would elect a committee and that committee will be made up of the members, not of internal union officials like myself. My role is supportive. The way you'd do it is you would ballot, your members with the rate guidance. If they don't like it, you keep on going back until they're satisfied with it, that gives it a level of democratic accountability.
So everyone knows that the rates that have been provided are the ones that have been agreed by the branch. This has been successful for a lot of branches in film and TV who work along freelance lines. What we've been able to do over the years is slowly turn up those rate guidances, increase them over the years, and it has led to really good pay for a lot of branches, a lot of departments.
Similarly, what we've been able to do with some branches, not all, is we've been able to get agreements on pay directly with trade bodies. So for instance, in a film or TV sector we've got pact, who are the ones who looked after the independent production companies. and I see no reason why we can't do a similar thing with podcasters to tell you the truth, because you do have employers that we can negotiate with- Bauer, Spotify, there's people out there that.
I would like to see us negotiating on an industrial scale. Now that's a long-term ambition. We'd have to demonstrate worth as a branch. We'd have to rally together. We'd have to work hard together in order to make that happen. But I do think it's feasible. I really do
Lily: Great. And we should also say that, we have a chat running so if anyone wants to pop questions in as we go along, we can ask those questions. And in terms of project and breaking down what's defined within making a podcast, is that something that the union works to helping with also?
In podcasting, a big issue is people thinking that it takes one day to make a podcast. So they just quote for a podcast.
A flat fee that doesn't actually take one day.
Paddy: I'm not sure if this language translates over to the podcast world, but they're known as buyouts in TV. It means that you get paid a one-off fee and you just do the work until it's done, you don't get paid by the hour or by the week.
This is something that we really don't think is a good idea because it leads to people doing 20 hour days and things like that. We've managed to stamp that out more or less, certainly in major motion films and in high-end TV drama. The way we've done that is we've negotiated the grievance with pact and said our working day is no more than 11 hours. Anything over that, you've got to start charging overtime. There's nothing like that in place for podcasts and I think that's another thing that I'd be keen to try and facilitate.
But again, it's a long term thing. We'd have to build up a good sense of density before we got to that stage. But 100%, it's definitely something we should be looking at.
Isis: There's a question in the Q&A, section from Jack. He says “Hi, there I've been podcasting for 15 years now and saw the race to the bottom start four years ago. How do we turn this around when the undercutting has a head start of nearly half a decade, I'm seeing both US and UK companies use each other as an excuse to reduce on mic and off mic rates dramatically as well as take and exploit IP, ownership of creative as well as work hours, et cetera. Thanks. “
Paddy: I think that goes back to more or less what I said before. Really we need to demonstrate, we need to foster new norms within the industry. and the only way to do that is from banding together and everyone agrees in a way forward. I think the best way to do that is through an organized union structure, because it has that accountability, employees recognize them in a way that they won't with other organizations. An employer will never negotiate with anyone other than a trade union.
Isis: In terms of the trade union being recognized by employers and especially ones that aren't independent they're not broadcasters necessarily. How would that work?
Paddy: On a workplace by workplace basis, there's two ways that can happen. It can either happen when union density has reached a certain number and the employer then has a legal obligation to negotiate with the representative body, the union.
More often than not with trade bodies and things like that, because obviously that's so much harder to do in a freelance world. Basically what happens is the union density becomes so much that it just becomes in the employers interest to begin negotiating with the union. We get to a point where we're dictating our own rates in any case. So the trade body thinks “we might as well get on board with this and we might as well have a say.”
It comes to a point where they don't really have a say then that's when they want to step in. And that's certainly what happened with pact. and the film and TV sector.
Sarah: I have a question here. “Does this potential branch include audio producers more widely, radio drama, producers recorders, for example, or just specifically podcasters?”
Paddy: The answer to that is it's entirely up to you guys. This is not my branch. So what would happen is, it might be useful to just talk about how a branch is normally formed maybe a little bit. Would that be useful? So normally what would happen is, we would get a few people together.
They would have a conversation and say do we fancy unionizing. And if the answer is “yes, let's go for it” we would try to recruit some members over a short period of time. And then we would have what's called an annual general meeting. And at that general meeting you'd have a committee and the committee would be like the executive committee of the branch.
They would be the decision makers. At that annual general meeting, the grades, the job roles or job titles that you guys want to be included in the branch would also be decided. So if you just want to keep it really nice and narrow and just have podcasters, that's fine. If that's what the consensus is, that's what the consensus is.
Lily: And there's another question for rates. I can read that out from Hannah. “So are these usually publicly available? If your day rate for a project is above the bectu rate, do you see clients using that as an excuse to pay less?”
Paddy: They will be publicly available. Obviously we encourage people who aren't union members to use these rates as well, we don't want to enter a situation where everyone in the union is charging high services and either not getting work because everyone outside of the union is under cutting them. I see the logic and saying only bectu members can charge for these services but the people who dictate these rates, people voting on what the rates are going to be for the year ahead will only be the individuals in the union.
And then obviously if you're outside of the union, you wouldn't get all the services and legal support that comes with that as well.
Lily: Great. Okay. Should we move on from rates? We can always come back. We're always talking about rates.
Fatuma: it's my go now. so this is about credit/ idea protection for freelancers.
How can they ensure that they get the ideas protected? How do they get paid for their development work? And how do they get credited for a project, in the event of an award or things like that.
Paddy: I'm assuming all of these things are happening so people aren't being paid for the time that they do before they get a job in the development stage and things like that.
Fatuma: Yep. So this is when they're pitching ideas to production companies and they're developing work, they're not being paid a day rate or a project fee for their development work.
Paddy: It's really hard. And unfortunately I have to give you an answer like I did on the last question and that is through negotiated agreements.
If there is an issue like this, where people are essentially working and not getting recompense for it, then the best way to solve that problem is to work towards the negotiated agreement with the people who are paying your wages, essentially. Now, as I said, that's not an easy thing to achieve.
That's going to take a high level of union density, but if that is a priority for the branch and for people who work within podcasts, then we can 100% work towards that. In terms of ownership, I'm assuming you're in a situation where your intellectual property is not afforded to you, as podcasters generally speaking.
Helen: It really varies. I think it's more likely if you're working for a big company, then they might have screwed you out with the IP, but it's not universal at all.
Paddy: Okay. I think the fact that this seems like a two tier system with IP that says to me, that's something we can work towards as well.
If this is something that the branch wants I'd be keen on promoting, insisting on certain clauses in your contract, which gives you a certain right of intellectual property.
That's another way we could provide assurances that you need.
Helen: Will the union be able to offer some legal advice and templates for contracts and things like that?
Paddy: Yeah. 100%. We can draft those up absolutely, no problem. Template contracts. We could look into that as well. We know you guys very often don't even get offered contracts necessarily. You just have sort of agreements via email. It's just such an awful way to have to work, that lack of security about what exactly your terms and conditions are.
So in the absence of the employer coming forward and saying “there's your contracts”. It's got to be the union helping you guys out and saying “Here's a good template that you can use. Why don't you approach your employer and say, this is my contract and that will include intellectual property.”
Then yeah, I think that's something really positive we can do. It's worth saying, we are backed up by a legal team. We do have an in-house legal team. We also have senior researchers. There's a guy called Tony Lennon who, when it comes to stuff like intellectual property is an absolute wizard, I personally think bectu membership is worth it just to have access to Tony's brain. But yeah, we can do all that sort of stuff. I personally think that's the best thing about the union membership. Especially from a branch organization point of view. We want you guys to run this branch in whatever way you want.
So whenever you need support- legal support, support with comms, budgetary support, running events, venue hire, any of that stuff. We can sort all that out. I see myself as a bit of a civil servant in that way, you guys are like the cabinet and I'm just the guy who helps you realize your ambition.
Sarah: We've just had a question in, Oh, we've got two questions and the first one is “how much would dues, likely be?”
Paddy: Yeah, so, ten pounds a month is the answer
Sarah: Amazing. And then “Can the IP of the pitch be protected if you were subsequently not contracted by the company?” And I think that's a thing that happens quite a lot. You pitch an idea, as a freelancer to a production company, and then they take on the idea, but not you and you don't get anything.
Paddy: I don't think there's a silver bullet on this. One option we could pursue going forward is trying to come up with some central database of ideas, which is run by an independent body and has input from industry leaders and the bectu branch. People could input their ideas and then claim ownership of it using the central database in the event there's a dispute about who actually owns it, because I do know this is a problem. I've had a bit of casework recently about somebody in a very similar position and it's unpleasant. Is it really quite a common thing? This Sarah, the sort of theft of ideas, more or less.
Sarah: Yeah, everyone's nodding. Yeah. it's unfortunately common.
Paddy: There are ways around it. I think it would be complicated to set up. We probably couldn't do it independently.
We'd probably have to have input from the employers and the other trade associations and things like that. But 100% it could be something that we prioritize going forward.
Lisa: So carrying on. The role of audio producer or podcast producer seems to encompass an awful lot of different skills with some producers expecting to be audio engineers and edit and mix everything and some just expected to do production.
There isn't really a lock down of the different roles where you could say you were a producer or a senior producer and then that ties into the rates question some people will say “Oh, it's 150 pounds a day” Or some people will be like “300 pounds”, Is there a way that union can help with defining the different roles and grades of audio producers within the industry?
Paddy: Some different branches in bectu in the film or TV sector have created grading schemes whereby there's a really regimented hierarchy. I don't really like the word hierarchy, I suppose that's their best way to describe it. A Hierarchy of positions within the departments, who, when they reach a certain grade or if they make a certain thing within their departments get paid a certain amount of money. Now these grading schemes are agreed with employers, which would hopefully be the aim.
This is a problem, Lisa, 100%, without clearly defined roles it leads to exploitation- people doing things that they feel either uncomfortable doing, are unable to do, or are grossly underpaid for doing. Again, there should be something we should be looking at 100%.
Again, not a quick fix, but what the union's been able to do certainly in TV and film and in theatre really it's been able to separate those jobs. It's departmentalized industries so that you become more specialized. And I think that leads to a bit more respect than the industry about the skills that people have as well.
Fatuma: This is about diversity and inclusion. Unions haven't necessarily had the best track record when it comes to diversity and inclusion. How is bectu going to address and change this?
Paddy: You know what? I can recognize why people have that view. I think since probably since the 1980s people look at trade unions as a white man's game, I think for bectu that's not the truth. We're a very diverse union.
We do a lot of things that are to increase access for people from diverse groups. So for instance, if you look at what we've done in the theatre we created something called the UK diversity action plan.
We basically recognized that there was a problem with diversity in theatres. It's a really poor level of representation. So what we did is we've got a group of a hundred theatres together. And we started providing direct training on how theatres can, could look at challenging these things.
All the branches that I deal with, they've all got BAME offices and they all look at inclusion as an absolute priority. We have a dedicated equality officer, a woman called Janice Turner. She's very active in certain things like this. Couple of branches do networking events, which are geared towards people from underrepresented backgrounds, in order to increase inclusivity in the workplace.
We do that for non-members of the union, because we recognize that these individuals might not have access to other socioeconomic means to be members of the union at the moment. so there's tons of stuff that we do. I do recognize that unions haven't been, traditionally speaking, the byword for equality. That's definitely not the case in bectu. We make it a priority.
Do I take it that diversity in the sector is something that's not that representative?
Lisa: As someone who helps organize the multitrack audio fellowship. We actually came together to do that because there was a lack of people of colour and working class as well within the audio industries. Cause it comes out of unpaid internships and things like that.
We were looking at whether there was actually any proper research- there's ofcom research, but it doesn't cover independent production companies. The Radio Academy has just done a bit of research but the results of that haven't come out yet, There isn't any specific evidence to point at, but everybody knows anecdotally, you can look around, you don't really see a diversity of people , it's very London centric as well. And it's something that multitrack is trying to alter with offering placements in Manchester this year as well.
It's really hard to break into the industry unless somebody can work for free. Or you have access to equipment and kit and things like that. And then there's insurance on top of that as well. Because even if you want to hire kit, you can't hire kit unless you have the proper insurance and the proper insurance is 2 to 300 pounds.
Paddy: One thing we could look at as a branch is the support of those organizations that you mentioned and looking to come up with some sort of census about what the actual numbers are, because very often these things it's a case of everyone knows how bad it is.
But until we can demonstrate it in facts and figures, employees aren't really that interested. Unfortunately, diversity very often isn't at the forefront of their minds.
Lily: Just to fill you in, because a big part of this webinar is also us telling you about the community and what's happened. So earlier this year, there was a great initiative called the Equality In Audio Pact where a group of audio industry professionals got together and set out a pact for companies to sign and that included, being transparent about racial pay gaps and how many people are on staff versus freelancer, saying no to unpaid internships, and a few other initiatives, but it was really successful. Most companies signed up for this and have been enacting it.
So I think within our industry , people are believing they're not demanding to see numbers or proof that there is a problem. So we're lucky there, but there is a problem. So you mentioned like working with multitrack, how can community initiatives further work more with the union?
Paddy: So if you look at theu scripted branch that we set out quite recently, what we did is we worked with a huge amount of diverse groups, TV task force, TV mindset, a ton of groups, and that created a sort of coalition for change. And what that actually led to is a large scale, working group called coalition for change, which as part of their remit does look into diversity and things like that.
Later on the year, one of the specific meetings they're going to look at is diversity. And that includes broadcasters. That includes the independent production companies. I see no reason why a rough coalition of people that are interested in these things, can't be put together in a more formal sense.
And that could include the union. If the branch wants to push in that sort of direction, we can't be precious. No one organization can have ownership over an issue, we all have to work together because we all want broadly similar things.
Sarah: What can a union offer in terms of, things like using the right language whenever you're advertising a job, things like that . Even like, you said, BAME, I know there's some people that don't like that term and just to make sure that we're on the right page.
Paddy: In terms of recruitment practices, I've got an anecdote that might be useful. I saw on Facebook about a month and a half ago, two months ago, a major broadcaster was starting to ask the people who wanted to work in the production departments of a pretty popular reality TV show for video applications, rather than written applications. Now, the feeling from the membership straight away was that this was potentially gonna be discriminatory so that people would look at these videos and would siphon out the people that they didn't think fit in with the scene that they wanted to create and that could potentially be along racial lines.
So what I did is I got in touch with the individual who was running these applications, and very quickly they said, okay, sorry. And got it taken down. So I think one thing that the union can do is when these ugly practices rear their heads, we can be the focal points because we've got absolutely nothing to lose by challenging these practices. I'm really aware that a lot of freelancers have a perception that if they stick their head above the parapet against an employer, they might not work for them again. They might be officially blacklisted. That's quite a powerful thing for employers to be able to draw upon, that level of fear about what they can and cannot say. So a big thing for me is that the union could be a lightning rod for those sorts of behaviors.
Sarah: Could you do anything proactively as well, it's quite difficult for people to report on everything. Is there a set of guidelines that you could write in advance or best practices or something like that
Paddy: 100%. Absolutely. That's exactly what we did for the UK diversity action plan that I mentioned for the theatres before, we put forward some proposals that we thought would really be useful. in order to increase diversity. And a lot of that was based upon recruitment practices because we came to the conclusion that people from diverse backgrounds, particularly Black people were not being given interviews at the very first stage and the same people were just being hired again and again. So in terms of policies that we can write recruitment practices, we can 100% do that.
I'd want you guys to be at the forefront of that. So we can write it, but we would write it dictated by you is what I'm saying. So we put together a working group and say, okay, what's the problem? What do you think the best solution is? We can give you some ideas and then we can look at implementing that.
It's all about keeping you guys absolutely central to everything that we do, we're never going to do anything that you don't want us to do.
Fatuma: I've got a question, related to disability within the diversity inclusion space and just thinking about reasonable adjustments and things like that. Often, lots of people with disabilities mask their disabilities at work and are often not aware of the resources that are available for them, all the statutory and governmental resources.
Particularly in terms of employers, some of their obligations and duties. So how will bectu as an organization, support us and support the audio workers in, accessing that their rights in terms of sickness and disability?
Paddy: Yeah. This is an issue that's quite personal to me because I'm actually a disabled person myself.
I became disabled I wasn't born disabled. I was really reticent about going to employers and saying, “I’ve got this disability. I need reasonable adjustments” because I was very scared. That they would hear that, and immediately respond in a discriminatory way.
I've come down to a completely different point of view since working with trade unions. I know that it's really beneficial to tell an employee that because that's when the liability kicks in on their behalf to make the reasonable adjustments that you need in the workplace. I think number one thing that any branch should be doing is looking at removing the stigma, allowing people to know that, if you disclose your disability, a legal right kicks in for reasonable adjustments to be made, under the employment act. What I've been trying to do quite recently, with film and TV, is put together a mental health policy.
So this is just for mental health, but this could be just as applicable to fiscal health or disability. What I've been trying to encourage for production companies to do and it's very early stages yet is to, at the start of every production, they'd send an email out to every single one of their crew and say to them “do you have a disability? If so, what reasonable adjustments would you require in order to properly do your job?” That's what I think every production company should be doing and that's what I think every employer should be doing. It doesn't happen at the moment. Especially in the freelance world, because I think for employers, this kind of stuff is extra work, which they're not they're reticent to do. We need to push them and encourage them to change those practices because they are wrong and often they are discriminatory. That's what I'd like to see.
there's actually no reason why we shouldn't be pushing a similar thing for employers in the podcasting world.
Shanida: Lots of people, especially around bullying, mental health, disability and especially hidden disabilities. A lot of people seem to not realise they don't have protection in this area, or even know what it might be on how to find it. How can a union protect against bullying and protect our mental health?
And how can we start that conversation with you?
Paddy: it's gotta be a multi-faceted approach cause it's such a complicated issue. There's a reactive approach, which is when people have been bullied and harassed in the workplace they can come and speak directly with me who has countless hours experience in dealing with people who have been bullied and harassed.
As I said earlier, very often we can be the lightning rods. We can go and speak with your bosses and we can try and sort it out that way. That's a bit of a blunt instrument very often, it's not always possible because people feel uncomfortable about raising it, but that is something that we can do.
And I've had loads of success stories where really quite nasty individuals who are bullying people are being removed from the production because of the intervention of the union.
I think what a union can offer is that sort of legal perspective, in a way that perhaps other organizations can't do, because we're backed up by a level of legal support behind us.
I'm always keen to promote people's awareness of what they're entitled to. Individuals or freelancers. As far as I’m concerned, there should be no diminishment of their rights to have reasonable adjustments put in place. If they've got a disability, if they've got a mental health condition that counts as a disability, similarly, they should have reasonable judgments made.
I don't want to go off too much of a tangent here, but for me, having worked with a hell of a lot of people who are suffering from mental health issues and in the freelance world, a lot of it comes down to working conditions. So if people are working far too many hours for far too little money for sometimes not very pleasant people, that is what causes a lot of the cases, mental health issues. The best way I think, to solve mental health issues in any sector is to make sure that people have security, that they're well paid and they're not working ridiculous hours. I don't necessarily know if that's the case within the podcasting world, but in my experience in other freelance sectors, that's certainly been the issue.
Lily: And I have a followup question around bullying. Another issue and this might go into a question I have later about setting up a company- When you're just one or two people, but a lot of the podcast world is in the branded world to take on clients.
There's a lot of work in making a podcast for a client. and then all of a sudden you can be subject to bullying from a client, which is something you've never really experienced before. And it's fine if you're a huge production company, but if you're just one or two freelancers, often just one freelancer or taking on a big job, this is a lot to deal with and I don't know if that's something that's come up in TV and film before, it's quite unique I think, to podcasting.
Paddy: Yeah, it's extremely difficult. When you work in close quarters with maybe one individual who's holding the purse strings, so to speak. There's a couple of ways that we could potentially look at, challenging those things. One would be putting some sort of clause in your contract, which says, if you can demonstrate there's been a level of bullying and harassment, you can exit the contract with full pay or something like that.
We could look at, trying to draft something with our legal team about that, there's several different ways, but there's not necessarily a silver bullet. These practices are still going to go on. I think highlighting those practices is key. So next week we're running a bullying and harassment awareness campaign called on-scene on screen.
Now this is obviously for people who work in TV, but I think we should be looking at doing a similar, bullying, harassment awareness raising campaign in the podcast world. If it is a central problem, it's through raising awareness that it does end. It’s not right that it's got to be that way that we've got to make up such a kick and fuss about it. But very often that is the solution.
Sarah: I just have a follow up question on that. In terms of third party bullying or third party discrimination, what can you do in terms of that?
Because I find having been employed in the audio industry a lot of the time that I'm working mainly with clients, but I can't bring any of these issues to them without going through my employer.
Paddy: So as far as I'm concerned, if a third party is acting in an inappropriate way towards you along any lines, the buck stops with the employer. And the employer has responsibility, as far as I'm concerned, to speak either with a third party in order to solve it or break ties with them.
As a union rep, If you came to me and said, "a third party person has really been nasty to me, I don't know what to do." then I'd be encouraging you to, first of all, speak to the employer, to get them to sort it cause they've got responsibility, they've got a duty of care towards you as their employee. And if that doesn't work, I would be keen to talk with them to remind them of their duty of care towards you and if they don't take the necessary steps, if it is indeed an employee employer relationship, I would encourage you to raise a grievance, which we could represent you in.
If that grievance is not listened to and they don't agree with our assessments, then I'd have encouraged you to take further steps perhaps a conciliation through acas perhaps, perhaps to an employment tribunal. Those are the things I'd be looking at.
Lily: And then, yeah, this is connected to the question before, but, again, just telling you about how there's this kind of gray area between freelancers, being independent producers and then freelancers needing to scale up or level up to become companies, all of a sudden, to tackle bigger productions or even to pitch to suppliers.
And, perhaps this is something that Audio UK, the trade organization that helps with production companies, perhaps they are already doing something around this. I'm not sure, but what kind of support can you offer freelancers who need to take it to the next level, but aren't necessarily gonna start a huge production company with an office, et cetera
Paddy: So what we can advise on with regards to that is things like work status. So how would your employment rights change if you started your own company? We're not accountants by any stretch of the imagination, but we can offer tax advice to an extent, on what will be beneficial to you.
We do have researchers who specialize in that sort of stuff. At the moment what I've been advising people on is whether making changes to their work status is going to allow them access to certain schemes that the government has produced in terms of the coronavirus.
I think we can put out guidance to our members more broadly about what's beneficial for them. I'm not going to sit here and say that I know that when you're earning X amount, that's the point where you should be a personal service company versus a sole trader. I'll leave that to the researchers to figure out, that's a bit too heavy for me, but we can certainly look at providing that guidance for people if that's the sort of information that people would like.
Sam: Just following on from that, thinking about podcasting and the nature of the job. A lot of it could be quite atomizing. You're working on your own and you don't have colleagues and unless you are an accredited supplier, it's difficult to pitch to and produce for bigger companies like the BBC.
I wonder whether bectu would be able to help support independent producers in connecting them with production companies that are aligned to the kind of work that they want to produce, to build that relationship and make those connections where people don't necessarily have the connections.
Paddy: In terms of fostering relationships, there's a couple of things we could do if we're a strong branch. We can start coming to agreements with different employers about what their policies are with regards to, people who've got their own companies versus people are sole traders and things like that
I think that's important. You mentioned the BBC, we unionized within the BBC. We've got preexisting relationships with them so in terms of foot in the door, that's something else we could look at. But it's really complicated stuff. I think it's going to take negotiated agreements.
I feel like I've come back to that quite a lot, but ultimately I think that is going to be the solution for a lot of the things that you're saying, because at the moment it's a bit of a wild West.
Sam: I wonder if there's support that bectu could potentially offer in terms of other ways that people find themselves actually getting work.
So grants are really important or applications, submitting Ideas and how you frame that I think is a skill that people don't necessarily have, although they might have the ideas. I wonder if bectu would have people familiar with the industry, with how ideas are taken on board and accepted that could help shape junior producers, or even established people who haven't had to go through the freelance, sole trader route
Paddy: Yes, absolutely. So we've got a dedicated education and training department . A lot of the education training we provide is in-house.
So people like myself or other people in education departments, will put on training to do with employment law and stuff like that. We also, cause obviously there's subs that come in from the members, we utilize in different ways. So we can provide, if there's a specialized sort of training that a certain branch is after, we could look at organizing that for you.
Sam: And do you think those need to be included in the dues?
Paddy: It depends largely on cost. My hope would be that it wouldn't cost anything. Some training that we've done in the past only when it's been really highly technical training has been, you pay 10 pounds when ordinary you'd have to pay like 80 or something like that, but it's relatively nominal.
I can't sit here and say how much it would cost. But, normally the training is entirely free and if it's something like teaching people how to present ideas, something like that, or flesh out ideas or development or something like that, I can't see that wouldn't be something that we would charge for and it's certainly something I would like to explore.
Sam: What about networking with peers? Say you're a fantastic editor or something, but you need a great sound designer who is also a member of bectu. Do you think bectu could help facilitate connecting these kinds of Independent people together to come together and create something.
Paddy: Yeah, networking events are really common in the union because they're a really good way to socialize and get people to meet each other. Freelancing can often be a relatively lonely place.
So they did one for Black people, quite recently. We could look at the ones that are geared towards certain occupations within the podcasting world, in order to assess a career progression and things like that.
Lily: The last area the survey picked up on, was safety. Hopefully COVID safety measures, won't be an issue for that much longer, but, I think it's worth talking about, both COVID safety protection. But also there are other safety issues too. Podcasting is quite unregulated. A big part of our industry relies on tape syncs, where you send someone all over the country to hold mic up to someone else and I think this is definitely something we could learn from the TV and film world.
Paddy: In terms of COVID. So when, when it all kicked off, like 40 years ago, whenever it was, the film and TV sector shut down overnight.
All of a sudden, no one was working. Everyone was more or less out of a job. And so our next job as a union was to get everyone back as soon as possible because at the time there was not really any government support and we were concerned there wasn't going to be, so what we did is we set up a working group for each department within film and TV and said to them “write a policy about how you could work safely in a COVID environment, or at least how you think you could work safely in a COVID environment”. Every single branch created documents. We amalgamated into one larger document, and then we sent it to the BFI. And then the BFI had a tinker with it.
And we came up with an agreed proposal about how people can work safely in the COVID environment. And that's why the TV and film sector has got back up and running as quickly as it has more or less now with a formalized union structure and with those pre-existing relationships with different employers.
That's something that we could have done with the podcast and world as well. So we could have got our heads together and said “right? What do we need as podcasters, what do we need going forward to ensure that everyone's safe, risk of transmission is not high.” et cetera.
We put rates together. We talk to health and safety consultants as well, get their feedback onto what we thought, put it to the employees. And hopefully it comes to some sort of agreement about how to go forwards. As health and safety things arise, that's how we can be reactive in that sense.
Now in terms of health and safety and in other areas- policy documents 100%, best practice documents, these are things that we can look to be publishing. About how people should be acting in certain scenarios and how employees should be acting in certain scenarios as well. So yeah, there's that there's an awful lot we can do. it's arguably the most important area for unions to be central, I think, health and safety.
Lisa: Paddy, are you still offering the creative industry safety passport?
Paddy: I think that was something that happened prior to my joining bectu. So to be completely honest with you, Lisa, I'm not 100%
Lisa: I did do it once. I was just checking, it was a good course in terms of, just going out and planning productions and things like that, basic health and safety.
Paddy: One thing that we could really look at as a branch is doing a health and safety course which is geared exclusively towards people working in podcasts. We could build a course together, talking to the health and safety officers that we've got, working with them to come up with a really good program.
Sam: I wonder if I could just touch on- say you're a pre existing member of bectu and primarily work in audio and podcasts, but you joined because this was the closest union to what you did. Would you actively need to do anything to move your membership into the right branch?
Paddy: Yeah. I've had a look through the membership database, cause I was interested in how many people work in all audio. So what I would like to do is speak to these other branches, speak to their chairs and say, would you be happy for me contacting your members about coming over to this branch?
Cause we think it'd be more suitable. So that's like internal union bureaucracy that you don't really have to worry about for anyone who is preexisting and has noticed the new branch who really wants to get involved and things. This is more industrially speaking relevant to my job experiences.
Or just get in touch with me, we can have a conversation about moving over. It's very simple.
Sam: Do you mind if I just ask another few quick admin questions, will that be a qualifier? Or can basically anyone who self identifies as working in audio or podcasting can join?
Paddy: Yeah. So we're not going to ask people to show us payslips or anything like that as far as I'm concerned, if you consider yourself someone who works in podcasting and audio and the branch decides that what you do fits in with who we want in the branch or how you guys work in the branch, then that's certainly good enough for me.
Sam: Do you think there could be a concessionary rate for those who can't potentially fall for 10 pounds a month, kind of a pay what you can model, or a lesser rate if times like COVID hit and people's money's tighter?
Paddy: Yeah. So during the height of COVID, when no one was working, what we did is we dropped it down to five pounds for anyone who was unemployed, but they still have full access to the union and things like that. We do have an unemployed rate, but for unemployed people, obviously we can't offer you advice on your employment because you're not in work so it's a bit of a paradox. What I can look at, which I'm sure I could probably secure is dropping the membership down to £7.50 a month
Sam: Then just the last one from me- in terms of the value for people or how it works with being a freelancer, or if you work for a company I imagine like certain companies probably not great companies would maybe have a bit of resistance towards joining a union.
Would you say there's equal value for both freelance people and people working for companies on full-time contracts to join.
Paddy: Yeah, I think there is, I think there are equal but different sorts of values. So for freelancers, it's all about rate guidance, things like that. It's all about contractual support rather than employment support.
Because the employee status is a bit different, for people who are employees, it's more direct. it's all about building up the amount of people who are unionized in that workspace in the hope that we can get an agreement with their employer, which is beneficial to them.
We don't go around telling people who is and who isn't a member of the union. This is confidential information. When you join, we're not gonna advertise it. We're never ever going to speak to an employer and talk about your situation without your express permission.
Some employers are hostile towards unions. It's a disappointing perspective because all we are is a representative body for the workers, but unfortunately they take a feel like that sometimes. But it is worth noting that, if you're treated badly because of your trade union membership it is actually against the law.
So if an employer starts blacklisting you, something like that, or you were made redundant or you were dismissed, or you've had your wages cut because of your trade union membership and we could demonstrate it, then we would certainly be looking to take action against them because that is categorically against the law.
Lisa: We've had a question in which, from Hannah saying, “would you be looking at facilitating an audio podcast specific, PLI policy for a podcast?” This is public liability insurance.
Paddy: The way it works with negotiating insurance policies is that we don't provide the insurance. What we do is we go to an insurance company and we say “we've got this big group of members they're going to want a really good insurance deal. So on, for instance, public liability, what deal can you give us?” And the insurance company will come back and say “we can do it for 40 pounds a year”, which is what we currently offer for our members, which is probably the cheapest that you can get. If we want to do something like a podcaster specific one, what we'd have to do is we'd have to build up quite a groundswell of members and then be able to go to the insurance companies and say “could you do us a deal for this?”
Lisa: Following up from that, with the other insurance that bectu does, which is the kit insurance- Essentially we're all working remotely at the moment and that insurance covers you with your kit if you work with the kit, but it doesn't cover your kit. If you send your kit out to be used remotely, which has been a sticking point, I don't know if that's something that bectu could look at.
Paddy: There's a lot of trust there isn't there when you're sending your stuff out. Let me look into that because I honestly don't know the answer, if you want to send me an email, at least we can look into that and see if there's anything that can be done.
Sarah: Just going back to the bullying thing and if anyone has an issue with say, for example, if I ended up being on the committee and I ended up bullying someone. How can they report me? Or if there's someone within bectu that they've worked with that is bullying how does that work?
Paddy: Yeah, unfortunately, this does sometimes happen because obviously people within certain branches work very closely with each other in some cases. So if we've got two people who are both bectu members who come to us with complaints against the other person.
What would basically happen is I would deal with one person and then, for instance, my colleague Polly will be able to deal with the other person. And then we, me and her will agree not to discuss this case at all with each other and just make representations, with the employer on behalf of our members and not muddy the waters at all.
Sarah: If we don't work together, they're a member and I'm in the committee , or I'm a member and they're in the committee and someone's bullying each other.
Paddy: So there's structures where someone can make a complaint against one committee member, and then it'll get heard by a senior back to the official and they'll come to a decision about a route forwards, whether that's removing someone from a committee or removing someone's bectu membership. It very rarely happens because most things can be sorted through mediation and conciliation and things like that.
Isis: Okay. I was just going to go in with this last one. I think it's been touched on in a few of your answers, but, how exactly are disputes between employee and employers managed typically? Can you walk us through how that would work?
Paddy: It's very different depending on the employment status of the member involved in it.
Let's say freelancer- so the member comes to me and says “I've got an issue with my boss. I'm not being paid, what they promise me to pay and they're bullying me.” So let's use those two examples as a hypothetical. So my initial advice on these circumstances will be how have you spoken to your boss about this?
Because very often at the very informal stage. Just raising it with your boss, if you feel comfortable enough, can actually solve the problem. And if I don't have to get involved, that's actually quite a good thing cause it's quite a blunt instrument for the union to get involved.
if that doesn't work, then there are two options after that. if the member feels comfortable enough, I would encourage them to just simply go over their boss’s head. So if they've got a production manager above them who has a responsibility over the job, I'd be encouraging them to go speak with them.
I could go and say “listen, it, this, obviously there's a pay issue here. Can you agree to sort this? And by the way, are members also being bullied? What steps are you going to take to rectify this?” Now, sometimes under those circumstances, the senior person might sit with the union representatives, let's say me with the member and the person who's doing the bullying and the underpaying, and facilitate a way forward. That's very often the best way, because everyone gets to keep their jobs. There's been a formal resolution and we can keep an eye on how things progress after that.
If that's not feasible then there's other things we can do. there's more public facing things we can do, which isn't at all our first priority, but, they are there.
It's different for employees because they obviously have a certain amount of employment rights, which aren't afforded to freelancers. If it was a similar situation but it was an employee I'd be saying, raise it informally. See what happens if it's not able to be solved informally we will raise a formal grievance where we'll be given our sort of day in court. and the employer will make a decision on the merits of our grievance.
Then after that, if that doesn't work and we think we've got a strong, legal case, for instance maybe you've been discriminated against, then we can go through what's called an early conciliation process with acas which is the government body which looks after employment in the UK. If during the acas conciliation process, we can't come to a financial settlement then we could potentially look at an employment tribunal. Very different approaches.
Sam: What's the next step? How does this progress?
Paddy: What we need to do is get a groundswell of members coming to join the union. My hope tonight is that people will understand that there is merit in unionizing, there are concrete actions that we can take in order to make their lives better.
And there are also actual benefits to them in terms of the services that we offer. That's my hope. People keep on asking,how many members do we need before we can form a committee and things like that- I haven't really got a figure in mind, but perhaps that's something a few of us should get our heads around and say “Once we've reached this number, We could look at having an annual general meeting”. It will be online. It'll be very much like this but people will be able to stand up, put their hands up and say, I would like to run as chair of this branch or I would like to be branch secretary of this branch, what positions there are on the committee is entirely up to you.
Helen: I was wondering, because I'm situated in Britain currently but I work mostly with Americans and sometimes in Australia and New Zealand, is it possible to work on pay rates that would be consistent internationally? Given that podcasters can work internationally .
Paddy: So I am aware that in the USA there has been a move to unionize podcasters. I think we should be linking up with them to make sure that even across the pond, we're not undercutting each other and we're fighting towards the same things and the same aims, especially if a lot of these companies that you're working for are transatlantic.
Lisa: We've got another question in the Q&A , asking about if there's a rate card which is saying the rate is, I don't know, 200 pounds a day for something, but smaller companies might not be able to pay that, people might be frightened that they'll price themselves out if they're trying to stick to a union rate. Could the rate card take into account the size of the company? We can have commercial rates or charity rates or non-profit rates or something like that.
Paddy: Yeah, I think that's a really good question. There is obviously a risk. I would still say that setting minimum rates is important regardless of the type of production you're doing. Just this week I've helped write a new rate guidance for people who work in prop making, in the union.
As part of that, we've said “your rate for major motion films over 30 million is X your rate for under 30 million is this, smaller production is this”. So it's all very compartmentalized because we recognize that the bigger the productions, the bigger the companies, the higher rates we should be demanding.
And also workloads are important as well. We need to factor in how much work is expected as well. So yeah, the answer is absolutely.
Sarah: We just have another question- “Does bectu have any experience or suggestions on outreach for industries that are significantly internet based decentralized and self starting like podcasting?”
Paddy: Probably not, to be brutally honest. That said the sort of issues that you guys have, which come hand in hand with the freelance lifestyle that does equate very broadly with our experiences.
We're probably the only union who has such a focus on freelance workers certainly within the creative sectors.
Lily: how can people send you questions directly or follow up? We've got the survey circulating and we're online taking the temperature, but if they just want to talk directly to you or bectu, how can they do that?
Paddy: I'll put my email into the chat right now (firstname.lastname@example.org) . If anyone's got any questions, just send me an email. My inbox is overloaded every single day. It's a really busy time. I can't promise that I can get back super fast, but if you do email me, I will get back to you eventually.
I hope I've been able to ease a bit of the concern about unionising. It might seem like a bit of an odd thing, It's not something that usually happens as a default anymore. A lot of people aren't members of unions. but I genuinely think it could be a really positive thing for people who work in podcasts.
Having that friend that you can always rely on whenever you've got an issue in the workplace is really key. One thing that I really wanted to draw on, which I haven't really is that this isn't so much about me getting you guys to join bectu, although that's what hopefully will happen. What I'm really keen on facilitating is you guys forming your own union. That's essentially what this branch will be: it's going to be autonomous. So the way that you guys want to run it. we're just here to help facilitate making it happen. You guys are the experts. We're the experts when it comes to employment, relations and things like that.
And we just want to help you guys achieve whatever you want to achieve. that's the sort of message I'd like people to take away from this, this is something that we're trying to help you guys do for yourself.