We are aware that there are pantomime producers operating in the low pay sector.
If you're considering working in one of these pantos, it’s important to know your rights so that you won’t be exploited, and you can help protect others working in the industry.
While many companies producing pantomime pay fairly and give decent working conditions, there are some taking advantage of our members or breaching basic employment law.
We believe that this is an unfair and unsustainable trend which is damaging to the industry. Equity members are skilled professionals who deserve to be paid fairly and given dignified working conditions, just like workers in every other sector of the economy.
While we have made great strides to improve the low pay sector through our Low Pay/No Pay work, our members are still frequently being denied their statutory employment rights. Importantly, low and no pay perpetuate inequality, disproportionately impacting on disabled, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic populations and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Asserting your rights is not just about you – it’s protecting others from future exploitation.
Typically, performers and stage management engaged on pantomime productions will hold what’s known as ‘worker status’ in employment law. This means if you’re engaged in one of those roles, you would most likely be self-employed for tax and National Insurance purposes but a ‘Limb B’ worker in employment law.
It’s important to note that when assessing whether or not someone is a worker or not, the test is the reality of the job and not the label chosen by the engager in the contract.
Employment status is not a matter of choice – it’s a matter of law. This means that even if you have signed a contract that states you are not a worker and therefore not entitled to holiday pay and the National Minimum Wage, if you should be defined as holding worker status, then you are still entitled to them. These are legal rights even if you are working on a fixed fee (as long as you hold ‘worker status’).
You can test your worker status by thinking about these questions:
- Are you expected to provide the work personally? Do you have a genuine, unrestricted right to provide a substitute to do the work?
- Do you have significant control over how, where and when the work is done?
- Are you genuinely obliged to perform the work asked of you and will/could there be negative repercussions if you don’t?
This is not an exhaustive list and there are a number of other important considerations, so always contact Equity for advice. We treat all calls or contact to us as confidential and will not tell your employer you have contacted us unless we have permission.
Holding worker status gives you important rights.
Under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, you can expect the right to the current National Minimum Wage in force at the time of the engagement.
For details of rates, go to gov.uk.
This means that if you are on a contract in which you are working hours which would be worth more if paid at National Minimum Wage than your weekly salary, that you are legally entitled to the uplift.
You can generally expect the right to certain rest breaks in law.
Maximum number of hours
Under Working Time Regulations, unless you opt-out, you cannot legally be asked to work more than 48-hours per week on average. See government legislation.
You can expect the right to paid holiday or if not possible to take because of the nature of the engagement (short engagement and not practical to take annual leave) holiday pay in lieu. This accrues from day 1 of any engagement in which you hold worker status. You should expect salary and holiday to be set out separately and not ‘rolled-up’.
Health and Safety Protection
In exceptional circumstances relating to health and safety, workers have important rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which means that they have the right not to be subjected to any detriment if they stop work and/or refuse to return to work or carry out the aspects of that work which are dangerous, when they reasonably believe there is serious or imminent danger which they do not believe they could reasonably be expected to avert.
We recommend contacting an Equity official as soon as you have any concerns about health and safety in the workplace.
Under the Pensions Act 2008, you should expect to be auto-enrolled into a company pension scheme, where eligible, at the point of meeting (or expecting to meet) minimum earning thresholds. See Pensions Regulator information.
Before taking on a role, you should carefully consider the contract or overall terms of engagement. You can ask an Equity official to review contracts for general advice.
You should expect for the contract to clearly acknowledge your rights as a worker through offering paid holiday/holiday pay in lieu, explicitly stating you are a worker, and/or referring to the contract as ‘contract of service’ rather than a ‘contract for services’. You should also expect the contract to meet the areas of employment law mentioned above.
You should expect a schedule of rehearsals and performances at the point of engagement. Of course, some schedules may change, but you should be given a strong overview, in advance, of when you expect to be working.
You can speak to us for advice and support, and you could try to demand or seek more. There’s no guarantee that the offer won’t be withdrawn, but if you feel that the salary and/or pay offered isn’t good enough, then you should consider whether you want to do the work.
Ultimately, if an engagement on a non-union agreement is employment law compliant, then there is not always that much we can do about low salary and pay. It’s up to you!
If you are being asked to tour to multiple venues across the country, you should expect:
- Travel to be provided by the engager or alternatively travel costs to be paid by the engager
- Accommodation and meals to be provided by the engager or a touring allowance covering accommodation and meals
For non-tour based productions or for periods of an engagement where you will be based in one place for at least one week, then, if you are required to temporarily house yourself in the local area, you should expect some help to meet extra expenses.
If a company chooses not to offer those payments, we can’t force them to unless this is a breach of contract.
It depends on the contract. As to whether you should reasonably expect extra payment to get to a rehearsal space or performance venue, it depends how far you are being expected to travel to rehearsals and venue/s.
If you feel it puts significant cost and is unreasonable, then you can seek to negotiate better terms, but there is no guarantee that a company will agree to them, and we can’t force them to unless there is a breach of contract.
You should expect that the vehicle is fully insured and the engager can provide you proof of insurance. You should expect to have had some supervised practice in using the vehicle in paid time. On performance days, you should expect to only drive a maximum of four hours in total and a twenty minute break for every two hours driven. If driving responsibilities are not shared with company members for a vehicle, you should also expect extra compensation.
Firstly, if you’re working on a non-union agreement, we are always happy to support and advise our members. It’s a myth that we can only support members when they’re working on union agreements – working on non-union agreements is all the more reason why you might need our support.
Secondly, if you holder worker status in law, then these supersede what you might have signed in a contract. This means that even if a contract says they can pay you less than National Minimum Wage, if you hold worker status, then you are entitled to National Minimum Wage. Even if a contract says that you are not entitled to paid holiday or holiday pay in lieu, your inalienable rights to paid holiday (or holiday pay in lieu) cannot be waivered in this way. Contact us for support and advice.
Let you colleagues working in the industry know about the importance of worker status, and encourage them to seek support from Equity if it appears they are being denied their rights in law. Most importantly, be ready to assert your rights and support your colleagues in asserting their rights.
The best way for us to improve terms and conditions in the sector is by having an educated, empowered, galvanised membership. You can also encourage producers to use an Equity Agreement and to contact us about this.
‘Tis the season to assert your rights and defend your colleagues from exploitation!