14 March 2019
Equity has today written to Virgin Trains following their competition announcement on social media. You can download the letter here or find the full text of the letter below:
Dear Mr Whittingham
I write with regard to Virgin Trains recent social media posts in which members of the public are offered the chance to become the new voice of your toilets.
As you will already be aware, what you have presented as a ‘fun competition’ has caused outcry among Equity members who work in the voice over/audio industry. Having now seen the comments your spokesperson has made in The Stage newspaper, I wanted to write to you to clarify some apparent misunderstandings on the part of Virgin Trains and to properly explain the issues with this so-called ‘opportunity’ in full.
Equity is the trade union for more than 45,000 performers and creative workers, a significant portion of whom earn their living in whole or in part through voiceover work. In some of their responses to audio artists who have expressed concerns about the nature of the competition you are offering, the Virgin Trains social media team have attempted to downplay the nature of the work involved, speciously arguing that it would only be a days’ worth of work. Professionals in the entertainment industry make their living through short term engagements such as this, and these day-long jobs can be a vital source of income for workers in between longer contracts or other sources of work. Virgin Trains’ social media team have indicated that five members of the public will be selected for this ‘opportunity’, meaning that what should be five paid jobs for members in our industries have been denied to them.
Your social media team have also argued that if people were offered the opportunity to present the Oscars they would not ask for payment. This argument is egregious in the extreme, not least because presenters at The Oscars and other similar awards ceremonies are in fact compensated for the work. More fundamentally, you are tax payer subsidised, multimillion pound train company – not, in fact, an entertainment industry awards ceremony. This attempt at comparison is at best ill-judged, at worst offensive, and again underscores the company’s lack of understanding or appreciation for the entertainment industries.
In their comments to The Stage, Virgin Trains’ spokesperson has stated that your company has “enormous respect for the acting community”. We would question which part of turning what should be paid work for professional voice artists into a competition for the public is respectful of our industry or the people who work in it.
I am however pleased to note that you “have worked with actors and voice-over artists on numerous occasions over the years and will continue to do so”. To that end, I invite you to meet with Equity at your earliest convenience to discuss this competition and the ramifications for professionals in our industries, and the rates of pay and wider terms and conditions you offer in your future engagements.
I look forward to your swift response.