Variety advice

Please note that this information is being regularly updated depending on government and medical advice

General

Over the last few days many members have reported being cancelled for work in live entertainment such as vocalists, children’s entertainers, magicians and circus performers. Some of these cancellations are for events at short notice such as the coming weekend but others are further ahead and some are for whole seasons.

Below is some general advice on what the legal position may be in various situations. Note, however, that the situation is constantly changing.

Also follow this link for general advice on coronavirus and the workplace: https://www.equity.org.uk/about/coronavirus-advice/

One-off gigs for live performances
Large scale gigs and high profile events

Cruise Ships
Circus
Care Homes
What else is Equity doing?
General Advice to individual artists who are currently in work
Keeping yourself safe



One-off gigs for live performances

Whether such cancellations are covered by force majeure is not always clear. In the event that a gig could have gone ahead but the booker decided it would no longer be viable it may be that it is not force majeure and would be a breach of contract and they are liable for your fee.

What should you do?

If you have already been cancelled for a job for which the date has now passed then seek advice from your local Equity office about whether you have a claim for the fee. Check the Equity website for the organiser who covers the area where the job was or company was based.

If you receive a cancellation for a forthcoming gig now then check the reason for the cancellation. Although coronavirus is likely to be stated what you want to know is whether the venue is being forced to close by the authorities or by their choice or whether it’s still open and just the entertainment is being cancelled. You could ask for a rebooking or about compensation and see what they say. If you want Equity to look at this for you then forward your contract with a description of the circumstances.

Large scale gigs and high profile events

There has been speculation that many large scale events (audience size >500) may not be able to go ahead due to government advice and not being supported by emergency services meaning they become impossible to put on. Some high profile events have already been cancelled and the list is growing all the time. Such events are more likely to come under force majeure than smaller private gigs. Force majeure would normally mean that the booker is not liable for agreed performance fees. If the booker has paid a deposit to the artist then this may have to be returned depending on the wording of the contract but before repaying a deposit it may be worth discussing this with Equity. If you have already outlaid fees on props, costumes or other materials especially for the job or booked hotels for which you cannot be refunded then it would seem reasonable to deduct such costs from anything you pay back.

Cruise Ships

Cruise ship contracts vary considerably from company to company and there can be issues in normal times with resolving disputes due to the legal jurisdiction. Although there are some UK based cruise employers many are based overseas and use the place where the vessel is flagged as the legal jurisdiction. If this is in the USA for example employment laws vary state to state. Many countries are signed up to the Maritime Labour Convention agreement which does provide some consistency across cruise companies and contracts although each company uses its own rather than a standard one.

Due to coronavirus a number of issues have arisen with cruise work which can be summarised as follows:-

  1. Cancellation before contract starts
  2. Cancellation during the contract run
  3. Quarantining of staff and performers

Cancellation before contract starts

This could be complete cancellation or an indefinite postponement but they are likely to be able to claim force majeure if the cruise was calling to countries seriously affected by coronavirus such as China, Italy, Spain, Germany and South Korea and now probably UK and USA and other countries are being added to the list frequently. If the cancellation is covered by force majeure then it is unlikely that any fees will be payable to performers. Rescheduling may be an option.

Cancellation during the contract run

It is generally more problematic for members if the contract has already started and is prevented from continuing due to coronavirus in some way. This may be because countries on the planned route are high risk or ports closed to cruise ships or a lack of passengers or the outbreak of coronavirus on board the ship. Because this is a highly unusual and unexpected situation the eventuality is not covered in many cruise contracts so the actions cruise companies are taking are not particularly consistent. There is also frequently a lack of information given to crew members about what is happening. If you are in that situation and want advice then email a copy of your contract to Equity on mday@equity.org.uk and give us much information as you can about your location and what you have been informed is happening. Also if you are being asked to sign any additional documents then show them to us first. 

Quarantining of staff and performers

Some ships have been quarantined due to coronavirus outbreaks on board and crew have little choice but to go along with what is happening. If you are able to contact us if you are in that position and need assistance or advice then please do so on mday@equity.org.uk.

Circus

The coronavirus outbreak unfortunately coincided with the start of the main circus season so, just as circuses were getting in position to tour, the government advised against gatherings of more than 100 people and later theatres and other entertainment venues were advised to close. The situation will most likely come under force majeure and those engaged for the circus seasons will not be performing for the foreseeable future and the employer is unlikely to be liable for agreed fees. Some may be in a position to provide some financial support to artists already on site so that would be worth asking. In some cases employers may have insurance to cover this but that is not likely.

For circus performers who find themselves in this position they should find out first what their employer is able to do to assist them. Otherwise check Equity’s advice on state benefits and additional government provisions as well as the charities that Equity works with such as the Equity Benevolent Fund.

Aside from the touring tented seasonal work many circus performers work in other ways such as at festivals and events in the UK and overseas or in a teaching and workshops capacity. Much of that type of work is at risk this year causing many members to suffer financial hardship. In those circumstances also keep an eye on the advice on our website which will be updated regularly as other sources of assistance become available.

Care Homes

Work in residential care homes was one of the first to be affected by coronavirus as residents in these homes are more vulnerable to the virus than younger demographics without underlying health conditions. Even before the government advice to specially isolate this group some care homes started limiting contact with non-essential visitors which involved cancelling entertainment. Cancellation of entertainment bookings did seem like an over-reaction initially, and that possibly entertainment could go ahead safely, but advice from government which came later overrode that opinion. It is now most likely that all cancellations for care home work would come under force majeure. Equity will have a look at cases on an individual basis if requested.

For those affected by financial hardship check Equity’s website for information on sources of assistance.

What else is Equity doing?

Equity is working with other trade unions, the TUC, management associations and our parliamentary grouping to make sure that the government hears the voice of workers in our industry.

We are lobbying the government to provide additional financial support to workers and the industry in this difficult time. As a key part of the modern UK economy and society, the entertainment industry must be supported and not overlooked.

Please keep looking at our website and social media for updates on these campaigns and how you might help get our voice heard at this time of a global issue.

General Advice to individual artists who are currently in work

Members should self-isolate based on the most current advice from the government, and if they are especially at risk, they should consider taking advice from NHS111 or their physician. All members should take steps to not unnecessarily expose themselves to risk-in particular they should be aware that not cancelling unnecessary travel plans to affected areas could have serious implications to any support the union or your agent could negotiate for you.

If you are cancelling plans, entering self -isolation, or have concerns about health in your workplace you should have an open and honest conversation with your employer. If this is difficult or you need additional support from the union in doing so, you should contact the union directly.

Keeping yourself safe

All members should put their health first. They should follow all government advice, but also think what else they might reasonably do.


Information correct as of 18
th March 2020