On Monday 4 April 2022, an employment tribunal ruled that 16 Equity members had a legal right to receive holiday pay from QDos — the ruling was published on Monday 25 April 2022. This win has ramifications for rogue producers across the sector who seek to evade the law and Equity's collective agreements — emphasising our longstanding campaign for performers and stage management to receive holiday pay and other workers' rights.
- QDos Pantomimes, now Crossroads Pantomimes, had refused to give performers and stage management holiday pay even though it is a statutory and not just contractual right for these workers in most conventional theatre productions.
- In action brought through the union after the 2018 pantomime season, 16 Equity members claimed to an employment tribunal that they had a legal right to holiday pay.
- The Employment Tribunal has ruled the Equity members had a legal right to receive holiday pay from QDos — a decision that has ramifications across the entertainment industry.
Crossroads Pantomimes — which was known as QDos Pantomimes before it was sold to the entertainment production group Crossroads Live last year — currently produces 24 pantomimes across the UK starring well-known performers from the entertainment industry and has won Olivier Awards for its productions at The London Palladium. It is led by Crossroads Live Chairman David Ian with leading theatre producer Michael Harrison as Chief Executive, who was formerly Managing Director of QDos.
Unlike almost all other major commercial producers, QDos/Crossroads has consistently refused to engage with Equity to use industry standard terms and conditions on its pantomimes, except for at The London Palladium which is already on the Equity/SOLT West End Agreement.
This refusal has meant a lack of protection over working time, overtime, pension, living away allowances — and crucially, performers and stage management working for QDos did not receive holiday pay, even though it is a statutory and not just contractual right for these workers in most conventional theatre productions.
However, after the 2018 panto season, Equity members fought back. In action brought through the union, 16 Equity members claimed to the Employment Tribunal that they had a legal right to holiday pay. On Monday 4 April 2022, the Employment Tribunal delivered a judgment agreeing with Equity's members.
The implications of the judgment are significant:
- Crossroads Pantomimes now has to agree with the claimants holiday pay for the affected productions or face a remedies hearing which will enforce a settlement.
- Crossroads Pantomimes has no excuse to not give additional pay in lieu of holiday at the end of pantomime contracts worth more than half a day's pay for each week worked — and worth substantial amounts to Equity members every year.
- Crossroads Pantomimes can no longer claim it does not have to follow the basic provisions of Equity's collective agreements. Holiday pay is the most expensive element of the agreement which has been evaded, and now performers and stage management are clearly established as workers there is no reason that they cannot have the full package of protections — from overtime to dignity at work provisions.
- Theatre production companies of every size and scale are left in no doubt that Equity's performer and stage management members, whenever they are working, have a right to holiday pay. If not, they could face similar legal action.
Judge Norris, who heard the case, forensically examined the oft-cited reasons by producers for evading holiday pay and other workers' rights. In every case she found that those arguments did not undermine the union's solid position that Equity's members in this case were engaged in a way which met the statutory definition of a 'worker'.
QDos tactic described by judge as having a "potentially chilling effect"
Before the matter came to court, we attempted to negotiate a settlement to avoid the action. QDos refused to engage with us without knowing the names of the individual members raising the issue — an intimidating tactic which the judge described as having a "potentially chilling effect". Repeatedly through the judgement, it is clear that the responses given by Crossroads Pantomimes were not found to be believable.
The case was initially organised by Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming, when he was then responsible for Equity members in the commercial theatre sector. He says:
"The consequences of the bravery of the Equity members in this case will send ripples through the industry. Crossroads through their predecessor QDos have for many years avoided industry standards and used their powerful position to deprive our members of the pay and terms and conditions which they are due, including through tactics which the judge referred to as having a 'potentially chilling effect'. A company as big and powerful as Crossroads should be using Equity collective agreements like the overwhelming majority of major commercial producers.
"Michael Harrison and the rest of the team at Crossroads should have some humility as they read this damning judgment. For Equity, it draws a line in the sand — we want constructive industrial relations and quality agreements for our members working for every theatre producer. We again encourage them to start on that path by joining UKTheatre and using the standard collective agreements — with full provisions for holiday pay, pensions, working time, dignity at work, grievance procedures and the rights our members deserve."
Andrew Whitehead, a performer and one of the 16 Equity members who brought the claim to the tribunal, says:
"I shed a tear of joy and relief when I saw the judgement as this ruling cuts across the industry. It's about my fellow performers and stage management having our worker status and employment rights clearly set out in the legal process, and every contract and company recognising that. I'm immensely proud of all the claimants for what we have achieved."