TV drama production under threat from industrial unrest
17 April 2014
Growing unrest amongst a specialist group of workers in drama production is threatening TV drama production this summer. BECTU issued the following press release to explain the position.
Press release for immediate use
Thursday 17 April 2014
TV drama production under threat from industrial unrest
This summer’s production of some of the UK’s most successful TV dramas could be under threat if a pay dispute, brewing for some months now, is not settled.
The dispute, which centres on BECTU’s claim for a £300 daily rate for grips, a specialist grade in the camera department, affects big budget drama output produced by the BBC, ITV and the independent sector.
Production of the BBC’s Silent Witness, ITV’s Mr Selfridge and Call the MidWife, made by Neal Street Productions for the BBC, have all been affected by the growing unrest. The next series of Doctor Who could face the same difficulties if the dispute is not resolved.
“Members in our Grips branch, all of whom work freelance, have not received regular pay increases for years. Now is the time for a much overdue review but so far our claim is meeting with resistance. It’s time for the employers’ ridiculous penny-pinching to stop, ” said BECTU assistant general secretary, Martin Spence.
So committed are some of the employers to rejecting BECTU’s claim that it is alleged that the BBC and ITV are using grips from South Africa and Hungary at extra cost, bearing in mind travel and additional support, to undermine the UK grips’ claim. It is further alleged on the BBC’s production Silent Witness, where the South African grip is employed, that the BBC has provided a dedicated car and driver, again at additional expense from the licence fee.
Alleged waste of licence fee to block union's claim
“This is a blatant waste of the licence fee payer’s money. What is clear is that this dispute is not about affordability but about a clear policy of stifling the legitimate claims of UK crew,” said BECTU general secretary, Gerry Morrissey.
On TV drama the norm is to engage one grip. The going rate has been around £250 a day for several years.
Ballot of members after Easter
Responding to BECTU, the employers have argued that the union’s position on the claim is not universally supported by UK grips, something the union rejects. That’s why a ballot of grip members will get underway after Easter, opening on 22 April and closing on 8 May, to establish formally the level of support for the union’s claim. The ballot will be conducted by independent scrutineers, the Electoral Reform Services.
“The ballot will establish the level of support for the union’s claim and we fully expect the mandate we have so far to be endorsed. That said, the longer this dispute rumbles on the more discontent there will be and the employers have to face up to what is being reported on the ground. It’s plain to see that BECTU’s claim is justified and affordable,” Martin Spence added.
Promise of an offer
There are signs that the BBC, which has an agreement with BECTU on freelance pay, will come forward with an offer aimed at resolving the dispute as part of an on-going pay review; however that offer is not expected until May. Whilst a welcome development, this promise does not address all the issues. Outside of the BBC agreement, industry rates are in large part determined by the employer given the absence of any agreed rates for TV drama between the union and employers’ body, pact, for many years.
BECTU fully supported the industry’s campaign for the tax break for drama production introduced more than 12 months ago. “That tax break means more money for production and our members, the industry’s workforce, have a legitimate expectation that they should benefit too. Our crews are frequently lauded as being amongst the best in the world. It’s time that praise was reflected in pay for grips,” concluded Martin Spence.
Support for BECTU’s dispute is not only being voiced here at home but in Germany, Australia and in the US where the respective industry unions, Verdi, the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance and IATSE, recognise the overdue need to reward specialist technicians as part of the industry’s investment in film and TV drama production.
For further information contact Gerry Morrissey, general secretary (email firstname.lastname@example.org) OR, after the Easter break, contact Martin Spence, assistant general secretary on 020 7346 0900.
Note for Editors:
What is a grip? Grips are highly-skilled technicians who build, operate and supervise equipment to mount and support cameras, and to achieve camera movements efficiently and safely. Equipment can range from a basic tripod, to a 100 ft camera crane, to a bespoke camera-rig attached to a helicopter in flight.
Grips dispute: international support is building
18 April 2014
International support is building for TV drama production workers who are campaigning for an increase in their daily rate.
The workers are engaged as grips - a specialist camera grade responsible for the building, operation and supervision of equipment to mount and support cameras, and to achieve camera movements efficiently and safely.
For years income for these freelances has been at a standstill and the fight is on to achieve a minimum daily rate of £300 which will be upheld by the BBC, ITV and independent producers.
Issues in common
The issues resonate with film and TV production workers across the globe with support for the UK group coming in from sister unions in Gemany, Australia and the US.
UNI, the global trade union, to which BECTU is affiliated through its European section, UNI MEI, is supporting UK grips, helping to tell counterparts world-wide of the campaign.
Writing to affiliates, Johannes Studinger, head of UNI MEI, said:
"While negotiations are in a deadlock, employers have started to bring in grips from outside the UK to employ them for much lower conditions. BECTU and its members welcome colleagues from overseas working in the UK. At the same time BECTU and its grips members call for solidarity and ask colleagues coming to the UK not to accept work for less than the daily minimum rate demanded by BECTU of £300 GBP.
"We call on affiliates to make their grips aware about this situation and to advise them not to break the line with fellow colleagues in the UK."
Sarah Jones R.I.P
The Feb. 20 death of ‘Vampire Diaries’ crew member Sarah Jones, who was hit by a train while filming scenes for the film ‘Midnight Rider,’ has affected the industry worldwide
“I hope that the lesson the industry takes from this awful tragedy is that there can be no short cuts in the workplace. A person’s life is infinitely more important than a production’s schedule or budget,” said ICG president Steven Poster in a statement announcing the vigil. “Safety has to be the number one priority in our industry.”
Yes, [the cast and crew] would like to have her name at the Oscars’ ‘In Memoriam’ section,” Caroline says. “But more so, [the campaign] is about awareness about Sarah specifically… and also, more awareness about set safety. [It's about] having the leadership roles on set really step up and say ‘no.’ What we said to the crew the day after we learned [about Sarah's death] was ‘no shot will ever be as important as you, as your friends, as your family… as you are as people. This is not the end of the world. This job will never be the end of the world. You are always the most important person; the most important thing.’”
facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/slatesforsarah
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STAGE AND SCREEN ARTICLE JUNE 2010
The Photocopy below shows the 'Grips "Advanced" Level 3 Passport', a photo I.D. Laminate card issued by Skillset confirming that the individual has achieved their NVQ qualification to the highest level of competence in their craft grade. There is also a "Grips Level 2" I.D. card which gives an individual competence to work under the guidance of the more advanced qualified grip, and also to undertake and carry out tasks & duties alone in the units achieved within the Level 2 Grips qualification. There is also a Crane Technicians Level 2 NVQ qualification which has been tailored to this grades specialist skills. Skillset issues these passports once an individual has produced their certificate from the awarding body to prove they have achieved their respective qualification.
Bectu along with the Grips/Crane Techs Branch would now urge all qualified Grips & Crane Techs to carry their Photo I.D. Laminate Passport at all times and show their card on arrival to the Producer or Production Manager before the shoot commences to confirm their competence to work on-set in any given situation and with the equipment being used and operated. It would also be advisable to state to a Producer when in line to be engaged on a Film or TV Drama before shooting commences that an individual is qualified to a particular level and carries the passport. The Passport ensures a Production Company that each individual has the skills, abilities and respective levels of competence to carry out their duties to the highest standards and also gives them confidence when approaching their insurers with details of crew members engaged for any assignment.
In the "Stage & Screen" issue, October 2008 we published a two page article entitled "Laying down the future" in which it was explained in detail the history to the above qualifications. It is worth mentioning two points from this previous article. (1. That it was the aim of the Grips/Crane Techs Branch to ensure all its members were either qualified or working towards completion of their qualification. Branch can confirm that almost 90% of the membership are now qualified to their respective levels, with the remaining percentage signed up and undertaking assessment to gain competence within the next two years. (2. That the U.K. is the only country within the European Union & around the world offering the above guarantee when engaging qualified grips. This is still the current situation !
Details for the Grips & Crane Technicians NVQ qualifications can be found on the Grips Website, www.gripsbranch.org.uk or enquiries directly to "Ealing Institute Of Media" Tel No; 020-8231-6090.
On Saturday 6th February 2010 the "Grips & Crane Technicians Branch" celebrated its 25th anniversary in Panavision's Preview Theatre, Greenford, Middx, barely a stones throw away from its very first fledgling meeting held at Grip House in 1985. This landmark meeting of the Branch was not only an achievement for the Grips themselves but an opportunity for them to honour one of their founding members, Dennis Fraser MBE who along with several other motion picture grips formed the first "Grips Branch" committee to represent the grips & promote the grade as a professional body of highly trained technicians. Over the last quarter century the Branch has grown from around 35 members who worked exclusively in Film & TV Commercial production as freelance grips to a current membership of over 150 Grips & Crane Technicians working in all sectors of the industry predominantly in London & the South East.
What is unique about this group of individuals is that the majority of them now hold a Grips or Crane Techs qualification and carry a Skills Passport in the form of a photo I.D. Laminate card issued by Skillset. Achieving the Grips/Crane Techs NVQ is the aim of all branch members. The branch wants to ensure that all its members are working to the highest professional standards and have competence in either their Level 2 Grips qualification, or for the most experienced Grips an "Advanced" Level 3. There is also a "Crane Techs" Level 2 which has been specifically tailored to the professional abilities needed to do that job. Each individual is assessed by a City & Guilds qualified assessor who is also a professional working Grip and holds the "Advanced" Level 3 Grips qualification. What the grips have achieved over the last decade with this qualification is now being adopted by other departments who want to promote their particular job with a dedicated NVQ which reflects the specialist skills associated with each grade and raises the standards across the industry.
Dennis Fraser MBE has been the standard bearer of the Grips qualification and through his belief in this route to excellence and his tireless hard work and dedication in promoting the Grips over the last two decades and what their unique talents bring to film making, has achieved almost single handed across the industry recognition for a craft grade that had previously only existed within the confines of the camera department. Now that department has decided that it too must have it own dedicated qualification, and both the Focus Pullers ( 1st AC ) & Loaders ( 2nd AC ) have written a set of standards that reflect their respective skills and specialist knowledge that encompass all aspects of their job. Dennis has also promoted the skills of UK Technicians overseas and our friends & colleagues across the pond are aware of what the UK Grips have achieved over the last several years. They too are beginning to realise that this is indeed the route forward to ensure the highest standards. British Grips are the only craft grade worldwide within the motion picture industry who have their own dedicated qualification and carry a skills passport. This ensures that when crewing up for a production the Producer knows they are getting the right person for the job, and that that individual is trained to the highest standards. You can be sure of a persons skills if that individual holds the necessary qualification and is an expert in their field.
Dennis also pioneered the first official Grips Apprenticeship scheme and both he and the branch are hoping that later this year a second scheme will be launched through the Skillset Screen Academy @ E.I.M. The apprenticeship will be limited to four places, it will last for two years and be structured around attending the college, specialist workshops & Masterclasses, and include placements at facility houses as well as on films & TV drama's under the wing of an "Advanced Level 3" Grip. It was for all these achievements and his unwavering belief in being able to bring all these elements together that Dennis was honoured by his piers on the 6th February this year at the 25th anniversary of the Branch. This recognition was given in the form of a gold plaque presented to Dennis by the first branch Chairman Jimmy Dawes who Dennis worked with at MGM Studios in Borhamwood from the early fifties until its closure in the 1970's. The plaque was carved with a figure of a grip pushing a Chapman Pee Wee Dolly,and inscribed with the words " In recognition of your achievements in the Motion Picture Industry. From all your friends & colleagues in the Grip Branch & your dear friend Lenny Chapman". Lenny and Dennis have been close friends for many years and Dennis is MD of Chapman Studio Equipment UK. It was the wish of every Branch member that Lenny's name appeared on the plaque because of the unique part he too has played in championing our profession, Chapman Cranes & Dollies have been an integral part of the Grips kit almost every day any Grip goes to work on a film set.
The Branch's aims and ideals run parallel with Dennis's in that it can continue to promote its members skills and that each of them will contribute towards raising the standards of excellence and safety within their department and across the motion picture industry as a whole.
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NEW APA AGREEMNET FOR 2010
Since 2004 the Grips Association have negotiated the terms and conditions under which grips are employed with the APA. Throughout this time we have had a wide-ranging, continuous, productive and ongoing discussion with the APA regarding pay, terms and conditions, our qualifications, insurance, health and safety and the current economic conditions we all find ourselves in. Throughout 2009 we negotiated on behalf of grips to create a revised new agreement effective from 1st January, 2010. These negotiations have been conducted throughout a period of economic instability and it is to all our combined credit that our negotiations have always been open, good humoured and productive.
Our example has contributed to other professional bodies such as the Assistant Directors Association being formed to emulate our success with establishing qualifications, training and group negotiations. During 2010 we hope to continue our negotiations as economic conditions improve for APA member companies and to further increase awareness of our successful qualification and training program.
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