Equity calls for self-isolation rule changes to be brought forward

Equity are calling on the Government to bring forward rule changes to self-isolation for the performing arts and entertainment sectors in England.

This would mean – from the earlier date of 19 July, rather than the current planned date of 16 August –​ workers who come into close contact with someone who has Covid-19 do not have to self-isolate unless they test positive themselves.

We are also demanding fair pay for those who go into self-isolation and a government-backed insurance scheme for the sector, but do not support attempts to mandate vaccinations among workers.

This position comes during a time of instability for the industry, operating under the Government's current guidelines. Several productions have had to suspend performances or rehearsals due to workers being told to self-isolate, such as the West End revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's Romeo and Juliet, Jeeves and Wooster at Cirencester's Barn Theatre, two productions at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre, and more.

Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming said: “Equity wants to keep our members safe and continue to support the fight against Covid-19, but current restrictions are disproportionate and not tailored to the needs of the industry. From sport to hospitality, the government is taking a sector-specific approach and we’re just asking them to do the same for live performance and broadcast.

"As planned in England from August, a careful testing regime could and should replace the current blanket isolation approach in place across the UK. If it doesn’t, the vanguard of the UK’s social and economic recovery from Covid could face irreparable damage.”

Equity's statement in full

The pandemic has seen the public health position in the UK change substantially. Now, thanks to the success of the NHS vaccination programme, there is a way for the performing arts and entertainment industries to return to work – alongside their audiences – and build on the health and safety practices that have been established by the return of TV, film and new media last year. But the Westminster Government is failing to react in a responsible way to this changed public health situation by not recognising the devastating and costly impact their current guidelines are having on the performing arts and entertainment industries.

The health and safety of our members at work remains paramount. The position of the union is first and foremost to protect members’ rights to refuse to work in an environment which is unreasonably healthy or unsafe. Behind this will always lie their rights under the Health and Safety at Work Act and specifically the duty on employers to protect the health, safety and welfare of workers. But where working on an Equity Agreement, that position will be clarified and strengthened further by industry agreed protocols. We recognise that there is no return of our industry until it is a return for all, including those who do not, or cannot, take up vaccination, clinically vulnerable groups, and other members excluded by the health and economic risks posed by COVID.

From 16 August in England, those fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate following close contact with someone who has Covid-19, unless they test positive themselves. We are calling on the Westminster Government to apply those changes to the performing arts and entertainment sectors – both live and recorded – from the 19 July for those who have received one jab or more.

In practical terms, we are campaigning and negotiating for the following from the Government and engagers:

  • That lateral flow testing should be a regular part of members’ workplaces
  • ​If a member of a company is identified as positive following a lateral flow test they should isolate and take a PCR test as per government guidance
  • Those in contact with someone who has tested positive following a PCR test should take a lateral flow test, rather than self-isolate from work.
  • Equity does not support any attempts to mandate vaccination among our members at this stage. It is unlikely that this will change, on equalities and civil liberties grounds. This policy applies equally to those vaccinated and unvaccinated.
  • Those self-isolating in the above circumstances should be paid no less than the relevant payments agreed as a minimum between Equity and the engagers for any period of self-isolation. Where none exist, we believe producers should use the normal minimum payments agreed for the relevant sector.
  • The Government should swiftly introduce live performance insurance in this environment of significantly reduced risk, and make the government-backed insurance for independent TV and film permanent, and in no circumstances end it before the completion of 2022, thanks to the way it has successfully facilitated the return to work of Equity’s older members, often excluded by the broken insurance market even outside of this unprecedented year.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland we will continue to engage with the devolved administrations in line with this approach and the timelines for reopening in the Nations.