08 October 2020
We're aware of a number of concerns and questions in light of the current ballot on variations to the SOLT/Equity Agreement for Performers and Stage Managers in the West End.
As is always the case, only so much information can be put into one email, so we want to clear up some of the main areas of concern coming to us. The first is about the pro-rating, how it works and how long it would be in place for. The second is about who we have balloted and why.
Please watch this video with our General Secretary Paul Fleming, and read the following factsheet below.
You can also listen to a recording of a meeting we held with members earlier in the week to discuss their concerns.
SOLT VARIATION AGREEMENT FACTSHEET
Pro-rating - How can I afford to live on 5/8ths of my salary?
Understandably, there is significant anxiety about members' ability to live in London on a reduced salary, especially after agents' commission, VAT, NI etc. We want to make it clear that the pro-rating is very much in place as a temporary measure and only designed to be for the short term. Employers will not be able to sustain a production on 5 shows a week. The intention is to give the employer the opportunity to start with fewer shows for a short time only in order to get a production back up and get people back to work sooner.
We pushed and pushed during negotiations to have a clear time limit on pro-rating to make sure members understand how long this pro-rating could be in place. Whilst we were unable to achieve a set time limit or number of weeks, SOLT did agree to a review with Equity every 3 months, which would start from as soon as the Variation Agreement is in place. Individual box office figures and other factors will be assessed, and if a Producer is abusing the pro-rating Equity and SOLT would stop this from happening.
The Equity minimum is not changing and no member is going to be offered a contract based on £400 a week. Members will be offered contracts based at least on the existing minima that were in place as the pandemic hit (£583.38 Category C, £648.43 Category B and £712.73 Category A), or at the rate you were previously being paid if you're on a suspended West End contract.
Your contract will be offered to you based on the number of seats the Producer intends to put on sale to the public in accordance with the standard West End Agreement. This cannot be changed downwards. If you are offered a Category A contract when social distancing has been removed, and they can’t find an audience, or the Government imposes social distancing again in the future, your contract cannot be reduced to a category B or C and your minimum salary cannot be reduced.
It is not sustainable for a Producer to put on a show for a prolonged period of time for just 5 performances a week. Producers want to get back to 8 shows as soon as possible in order to make money - you are not going to be on a pro-rated salary on a long term basis.
Negotiations & Your Vote
1) Why did Equity not involve members in these negotiations?
SOLT wrote to Equity in June this year, outlining the changes they wanted to make to the West End Agreement in order to facilitate the gradual reopening of productions on the West End. Equity Deputies from across every West End show that was closed down on 16th March have been in near-constant communication with union staff.
The West End Deputies were asked to form a working party to support these negotiations. Volunteers came forward from that group of members, along with volunteers from the union’s Stage Committee – the group of members you elect every two years to oversee the union’s industrial work in theatre. Those members, alongside staff, led the negotiations. The West End Deputies were informed and consulted about the negotiations at every stage.
2) Why are you not balloting every member on something so significant?
Equity is a trade union of 48,000 entertainment industry workers. Some of them have never worked (and will never work) on the West End Agreement for Performers and Stage Managers because they are directors or designers and therefore work on a different union agreement, or because they are part of our 10,000 strong Variety membership – comedians, burlesque performers, cabaret singers and so on.
The majority of Equity members will not be balloted on this agreement and some will feel strongly that they should be able to vote – either because they have not yet worked on the West End Agreement but could very well be doing so within the next year, or because they do have West End experience but outside the parameters we have set for the ballot – i.e., that those who have worked on the West End agreement in the three years from 5th October 2020.
The ballot is restricted in this way because if the union were to ballot every performer and stage manager in our membership, SOLT will be able to state that the result is not legitimate given we have included people who have either no experience or no recent experience of the terms and conditions they are being asked to vary. This would result in the ballot process being invalidated, and we would need to re-run it.
The SOLT/Equity Agreement is renegotiated every four years. The last ‘normal’ negotiations took place in early 2019, and at this point every member who had worked on the agreement as it stood prior to renegotiation was surveyed on priorities for our claim, and then received a ballot. In 2023, when the agreement is next negotiated, every member who has worked on the SOLT/Equity West End Agreement will be surveyed and will then receive a ballot when negotiations are concluded.
This is the union’s standard policy for ballots, as agreed by our Stage Committee and Council – the two groups of members you elect every two years to make decisions like this.
3) I am not a member of Equity, but I work on this agreement. Why don’t I get a say?
The SOLT/Equity West End Agreement applies to every performer and stage manager in SOLT houses, irrespective of whether they are union members or not. But only union members vote on changes to those terms. This is the case now, as it has been for every other ballot process the union has ever run.
4) Why is a trade union recommending a yes vote when this worsens our terms and conditions?
No trade union recommends a worsening of terms and conditions lightly. In this case, we do so because we have reached the limit of the concessions we were able to gain from SOLT. Their original proposals to Equity about the changes they wanted to make to the agreement were considerably worse than the final position we are now presenting to members. Originally, SOLT were seeking to change category of theatre after contracts issued, to reduce over time payments, to pro-rate responsibility payments and to include in the increased pro-rated minimum. What you are now voting on represents the smallest set of variations that SOLT need to encourage their producers to restart work in our West End theatres.