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Friday, 15 June 2012

Working for free in TV - grrrrrr...

Please note - I write this purely in relation to 'working' for free in order to get a job in TV - not in relation to any other sector (on which i can't pass comment), nor in relation to legal work experience placements when a student.

A tough challenge for new entrants to  is that they need experience but there's a severe shortage of paid entry opportunities. It becomes tempting to take on free work to build those missing skills. DON'T. The NMW law is there for a reason - employers in the industry will only stop breaking the law if you stop working for free. TV experience - not TV slave labour. Please ensure you are wise.

The above is a collation of 3 tweets I 'tweeted'. I was saddened by the amount of responses and texts I received to say 'but that's just how it is'. 

I am a hypocrite.

I was so busy getting frustrated by this situation that I completely forgot a naive comment I made in my very first ever article for 'So You Want To Work in TV?'. I said I would work for free.

Technically this was not true - I had just been paid a lump sum which was the equivalent of 8 weeks wages (at the time) and thus I figured it was an ideal time to 'change career' and gain experiences by volunteering my services. 

Essentially - it was true. I offered to work without payment.

Firstly let me highlight - I DID NO SUCH THING. Fortunately for myself, the offer alone was as far as it got. I took on a paid job as my first role. I did however, as I hold my hands up, make the offer.

Rather than debate the whys and hows of the situation in which I said it, let me rather focus on why YOU should not. (I merely admitted saying it before some wise ass pointed it out!).

1. As above stated, the National Minimum Wage Law is there for a reason.

2. You are not a slave. Slave labour does/should not exist in the UK: all well done work deserves to be paid.

3. You are permitting the ruthless swines in our industry that are happy to not pay staff the opportunity to continue this awful trend. I am fed up of people saying comments such as 'but if nobody is getting paid thats OK right?' NO! 'I need the experience' THERE ARE OTHER WAYS 'Everyone does it, its the only way in' IT WON'T BE A WAY IN IF PEOPLE UNITE AND REFUSE!

The industry works to a budget - budget for your required workers!

The NMW Act 1998 was a flagship policy of the labour party during its 1997 election campaign. The ins and outs of the politics can be found elsewhere - what is relevant to my writing is that interestingly, the policy was opposed by the Conservative Party at the time of implementation, who argued that it would create extra costs for businesses and would cause unemployment.

This is the crux of today's discussion I think: would you rather work for free in TV than not at all (in TV)?

It would appear so - almost 40% of those I have spoken to have been refreshingly honest and admitted that yes, if they thought it meant a 'credit', notch on the CV or gaining relevant experience to help get a aid job, they would work in TV for free.

When I asked the question 'When have you or would you work in TV for free, or is it ever ok?' to my army of loyal followers, responses included: 

Worked 2 weeks free at an online video producer to earn understanding & experience in a different area, plus key contacts.

Because '100 other people are right behind you who will do it for free'  ?

I have to get experience and that seems the only way at the moment

If none of crew are getting paid eg. low budget short, I think that's ok.But if 1 person is getting paid,everyone should.

Unfortunately for every 1 person who tries to stand up to it, there are 2 more able to work for free. Very difficult.

This genuinely upsets me - and I am not alone. Many campaign tirelessly to ensure that this illegal culture comes to an end. it isn't however ending - so what can we do?

So - where do I go from here? I alone do not expect to be able to make a difference - but what I am hoping is that with actual research, a far more planned and detailed article than this merely opens conversation on, and conversations directly with those who are in breach of the NMW Act that maybe - just maybe - I can fuel a fire that could eventually lead to the word being spread further, and you all buying into this simple mantra and saying it with confidence: I want to work in TV. I'm not doing it for free.

 ©June 2012 – Lou Gallagher
USEFUL INFO...correct at time of writing (June 2012):

Current NMW rates

There are different levels of NMW, depending on your age and whether you are an apprentice. The current rates (from 1 October 2011) are:
  • £6.08 - the main rate for workers aged 21 and over 
  • £4.98 - the 18-20 rate
  • £3.68 - the 16-17 rate for workers above school leaving age but under 18
  • £2.60 - the apprentice rate, for apprentices under 19 or 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship
If you are of compulsory school age you are not entitled to the NMW. Some of your other employment rights are also different.

If you have any questions in regards to whether the placement you are undertaking is legal or other wise, seek advice.

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