Statement from the General Secretary of Equity, Paul W Fleming
"SAG-AFTRA is Equity’s sister union representing performers on screen in the United States. They are currently in negotiations with the AMPTP - the engagers association for film and TV producers in the United States. Earlier this year, SAG-AFTRA balloted their members to achieve authorisation for strike action if it was necessary to achieve a good settlement in these negotiations. Today, SAG-AFTRA’s Board has taken the brave step of authorising a strike.
"SAG-AFTRA’s claim to the producers contains many critical elements for performers on their agreements. The key elements of the claim are longstanding, shared fights for our unions –issues like pay and residual payments. But SAG-AFTRA, like Equity, is also bravely facing head-on existential questions on issues like Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the rise in virtual auditions and self-tapes. Securing fairness in pay, terms, and conditions is critical whether they be with traditional producers, or new global streamers, and with new modes of making and distributing work to a global audience.
"Equity stands full square behind our sister union in their claim, and the action their Board have agreed to take. Equity too is experiencing bullish engagers attempting to undermine its collectively bargained agreements. SAG-AFTRA has our total solidarity in this fight.
"We say clearly to the AMPTP and their members that they need to move significantly and swiftly to meet the reasonable aspirations of SAG-AFTRA’s members. The members of our unions, and all entertainment unions across the globe, create the vast wealth within our industry – it is right and just that they have decent, modern pay and conditions.
"Equity has been in constant contact with our sister union throughout the negotiations at every level – including the President and General Secretary attending in person in Los Angeles earlier this month. We will continue to work closely and collaboratively on advice for artists working in the United Kingdom as the situation develops.
"Industrial relations legislation in the United Kingdom is draconian, and often viewed as the most restrictive in the Western world. The convoluted and pernicious hurdles faced by all unions in the United Kingdom are a national disgrace and need urgent reform. The regrettable consequence of this framework is that what artists working in the United Kingdom – whether SAG-AFTRA and/or Equity members (or both) – can do, may be different from their comrades in the United States and other parts of the world.
"Equity is fighting alongside the rest of the trade union movement in the UK to reform our illiberal industrial relations framework in parliament, in the courts, and on the streets.
"Detailed advice for artists working in the UK who are Equity and/or SAG-AFTRA members is set out below. Furthermore, Equity will be organising demonstrations, rallies, and protests in the coming days and weeks to show our solidarity with our sister union and their fight.
"As Equity’s motto says: To all artists good work. To all workers good art. To all people: Equity.
"And to SAG-AFTRA: Victory."
Equity and SAG-AFTRA have also issued a joint statement which can be read here.
Advice Concerning SAG-AFTRA Industrial Action – 13th July 2023
Here we set out Equity’s advice for members on the strike action in an easy-to-read way, based on the most common ways in which they are engaged.
You will see that the primary legal problem is this: We have been advised by SAG-AFTRA that its strike is lawful according to United States law but we have been advised by our UK lawyers that it is not lawful under United Kingdom law. Consequently, a performer joining the strike (or refusing to cross a picket line) in the UK will have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or the engager. Likewise, if Equity encourages anyone to join the strike or not cross a picket line, Equity itself will be acting unlawfully and hence liable for damages or an injunction. What follows is based on that advice from SAG-AFTRA and our lawyers.
You should continue to work and should not be prevented from doing so by a SAG-AFTRA picket. As the strike has been authorised under legislation in the United States but is not lawful under United Kingdom legislation, you have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or your engager if you take strike action or refuse to cross a picket.
This should not prejudice your right to become a SAG-AFTRA member in the future.
You should continue to work and should not be prevented from doing so by a SAG-AFTRA picket. As the strike has been authorised under legislation in the United States and is not lawful under United Kingdom legislation, you have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or your engager if you take strike action or refuse to cross a picket.
Under UK law, SAG-AFTRA is not permitted to discipline you for continuing to work.
You should continue to work and should not be prevented from doing so by a SAG-AFTRA picket. As the strike has been authorised under legislation in the United States and is not lawful under United Kingdom legislation, you have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or your engager if you take strike action or refuse to cross a picket. If your action was to cause losses to your engager (the producer) or third parties, they may hold you liable for those losses.
Under UK law, SAG-AFTRA is not permitted to discipline you for continuing to work.
You should contact SAG-AFTRA for advice. Equity cannot be held liable for that advice, as although you are working on a SAG-AFTRA contract, the industrial action was authorised in a jurisdiction outside of the UK and does not conform to UK law. Equity is unable to advise you further, as you are on a SAG-AFTRA contract.
You should follow all instructions from SAG-AFTRA regarding their strike on your production, as we understand from SAG AFTRA that the strike is lawful in the United States.
Equity will organise shows of solidarity with SAG-AFTRA in the coming days and weeks. Keep in touch with Equity’s social media about news of rallies and demonstrations in solidarity with them and their dispute.
You should not encourage people to stop work on productions which are operating in the United Kingdom, because though the strike is lawful in the United States, it is not lawful under United Kingdom legislation, and so you are likely to be acting unlawfully in encouraging someone to join the strike in the UK .
You should contact the appropriate member of Equity staff listed at the end of this page immediately, and the relevant official will advise you in line with UK legislation. Our advice will be grounded in the principle that you should not breach your contract, but equally that your contract should not be altered or your work changed unreasonably to undermine the SAG-AFTRA dispute, and certainly not without your consent.
You should contact the appropriate member of Equity staff listed at the end of this page immediately, and the relevant official will advise you in line with UK legislation. Discrimination on the grounds of trades union membership is illegal in the UK, irrespective of where the union is based. We will challenge all such instances where we see SAG-AFTRA members being discriminated against in such a way. You can be put under no obligation to disclose your membership of any trades union in the United Kingdom, irrespective of where that trades union is based.
Equity will examine any instances on a case-by-case basis with the principle that we will endeavour to take all reasonable, legal steps to prevent the United Kingdom being used as a back door to undermine or avoid the dispute.
The current dispute is not concerned with theatre engagements, although Equity represents artists working on both stage and screen. You should continue work as normal.
The current dispute is not concerned with TV commercial engagements. You should continue work as normal.
If you are working on an Equity contract, you should contact the appropriate member of Equity staff listed on this page immediately, and the relevant official will advise you. If you are working on a SAG-AFTRA contract, you should contact SAG-AFTRA for advice.
A number of productions have invoked the force majeure provisions under the PACT Film and TV contracts or accompanying special stipulations attached to contracts. They are using this to seek to justify the suspension of productions which are being impacted by the US strike action.
Force majeure is a clause that is included in contracts to remove liability for unforeseeable and unavoidable catastrophes that would interrupt the expected course of events and prevent participants from fulfilling their obligations under the contract. These clauses generally cover both natural disasters and unforeseeable scenarios created by humans.
In accordance with the law and the force majeure wording within the Equity TV and Cinema Films Agreements, the producers are able to invoke the provisions to cover strike action, even when this action emanates in another country.
We know that some productions are invoking force majeure in circumstances where the lead or leads are SAG-AFTRA members engaged on SAG-AFTRA contracts. This is legitimate under the terms of Force Majeure. We are investigating each and every production where force majeure is relied upon so we have absolute certainty that producers are able to justify suspension and we are being guided by our lawyers.
Under both the collective agreements (TV and Cinema Films Agreement) productions are able to suspend for up to 3 weeks with no payment. After this, they will need to elect to put on first call, second call or terminate. Productions must adhere to this; they cannot keep you engaged with no further payment indefinitely. If after three weeks they have not made the decision on what their next steps are, please contact us.
If you were engaged on an Equity contract, you should continue to undertake your contractual obligations, including any press or publicity. If you don’t do this then you are at risk of being sued for breach of contract by the producer or your engager. Sometimes such clauses include reference to ‘reasonableness’ in addition to or instead of specific obligations. In such a case you should contact Equity for further advice if you are concerned as to what this might mean; advice on such clauses will have to be on a case-by-case basis.
If you were engaged on a SAG-AFTRA contract, you should approach them for advice.
We are encouraging members to show their support for the strikes using hashtag #StandWithSAGAFTRA and using our social media banners. You can add a ribbon to your Facebook profile picture here (note that this won't work as well for Twitter's circular profile pictures). You can also download a header image for your profile or a graphic to post anywhere (to download, right-click the link and choose "Save link as").
Check out the SAG-AFTRA social media toolkit here!