Christine Payne: Respect and recognition

It is a great honour to serve on the Executive Committee of the TUC, the top table of the union movement, and it is vital that Equity members’ concerns are heard alongside those of workers from all sectors across the UK.

But we do have differences with our sister unions and being on the Executive Committee is a great opportunity to raise issues relevant to our sector.

Unlike many other unions, Equity has longstanding experience of organising, representing, campaigning and bargaining for workers in a labour market that is characterised by short-term contracts and insecure work

This is a key reason why Equity’s membership has continued to grow while many of its sisters unions have struggled to adapt to the challenges of changing working patterns ushered in by new technologies

The vast majority of members are genuinely self-employed for tax. You have working lives that might fluctuate from, say, an hour’s voice-over work, to a short-term theatre contract. Therefore the ability to offset tax against costs is critical for staying afloat financially and remaining available to work in the labour market.

The TUC needs to include and reflect the working reality of how our members earn their living through its policies. Some of this is simply about the language that is used.

For example, it seemed to have become standard for the term ‘self-employment’ to be prefixed by ‘bogus’. I was able to raise this at the Executive Committee and with the support of other unions the term will be changed to ‘false’ self-employment which leaves space for the genuinely self-employed.

I am also putting the argument that increasingly, young people don’t recognise the term ‘employer’. Self-employed workers don’t generally have ‘employers’, they have engagers, which I believe is the more inclusive term.

The TUC is also listening to us on issues, such as the evidence we are bringing to them on the class pay gap – which is particularly worrying in the arts sector.

But at the heart of this is respect and recognition for the contribution our industries make to the economic and cultural health of the UK. Equity members along with other creative workers are the driving forces behind the £100 billion creative economy and the TUC is very important in ensuring that our sector is given the same priority and representation as other sectors.

Our members’ central role in sustaining the future of the cultural sector is reflected in the release of the union’s new arts policy, which you can find on the website here.

I want to thank all the members of the working party who put in a tremendous amount of work to articulate this vision. It is an ambitious and radical policy that will help members, branches and committees formulate campaign work over the coming years.

Due to the current turbulent political environment it is even more pressing that we put the strongest case for the value of the creative sector.  As I write this, it is still unclear if a no deal Brexit will be completely ruled out or when a general election will be called.

Equity will continue to make clear its vocal opposition to a no deal Brexit that could devastate members’ careers and livelihoods and must be prevented.