It's been difficult to post regularly since starting my new post at Equity. It has been a fascinating time to join Equity and to support the union's historical mission to eradicate a culture of abuse and harassment. The social, political and cultural nature of the problem was spelt out clearly by Equity's General Secretary in a detailed Morning Star article on 31st October.
A particularly important theme of the article is that as the union for workers in the creative industries, Equity will still be focusing on this problem long after the media interest has dissipated.
IT HAS almost been a month since the Harvey Weinstein revelations began to emerge The scale of alarming testimonies from well and lesser-known performers may have come as a surprise to some, but they are an all too familiar reality for the thousands of workers in the creative industries — particularly women.
Defending Equity members individually and collectively from sexual and other forms of harassment in the audition room, in rehearsal spaces and in the workplace is the everyday business of our union.
We do not and will not tolerate abusive behaviour by employers or engagers.
Equity has been able to provide support and legal assistance to a number of members who have reported incidents to us over the years.
We will continue to do this and encourage any performer who has experienced bullying, harassment or intimidation at work at any time in the past to contact Equity’s offices or email email@example.com on a confidential basis We are also mindful of the fact that many of those working in our sector are self-employed, precarious workers.
Precarity is often linked to the denial of basic employment rights such as the National Living Wage and health and safety at work. In an environment of ongoing cuts to arts funding and combined with the highly competitive nature of the labour market, precarity leads to an environment where performers and other creative workers fear that speaking up in defence of their rights will lead to them being excluded from future work opportunities.
Instead of reporting inappropriate behaviour, too many creative workers choose to keep their heads down and try to stick it out until the end of their short-term contract. It is vitally important for these workers to join and get active in their union in order to access individual help, but also to be part of our collective efforts to fight for dignity and respect at work. Bullying and sexual harassment of workers is never acceptable. It cannot be excused as being “part of the creative process” or explained away as an unfortunate adjunct of the informal networking and highly subjective recruitment practices that pervade the entertainment industry.
The reality is that our sector, like any sector of the economy, must respect employment and equality laws from the moment a worker is recruited through to when they finish the job. Equity will continue to challenge any employer who abuses or exploits our members. We will also continue to fight for equality across the industries where we organise performers and we will seek to extend the protections in our collective agreements to emerging areas of work.
We will empower our members to tackle inappropriate behaviour through promoting and building on our recently published Casting Questions guidance, which are available here: equity.org.uk/documents/casting-questions-guidance/.
In response to the demand from members to report historical and recent allegations, in the coming weeks we intend to establish a working group within Equity to gather testimonies from our members: women and men, LGBT+, disabled and BAME. We will also work with other campaigning groups in the industry, including Equal Representation for Actresses, Women@Rada and Women in Film and TV to amplify each other’s demands and identify initiatives that others are working on to address harassment.
The recommendations of our working group will be presented to employers across the sector for action towards the end of this year. We will also highlight our existing campaigns seeking to achieve structural changes to the industry.
Women in Equity have campaigned tirelessly for many years to achieve equal representation on stage and screen, for better portrayal of women in the media and have called out the discrimination faced by older performers. They have also lobbied for women to hold more positions of power throughout the industry and demanded more opportunities for women directors and writers. It is well past the time for the industry to act on these demands.
The Weinstein revelations will no doubt be followed by further disclosures across the film, television, theatre and wider media industries. This is a key moment for the industry to harness the energy generated by the current furore and seize the opportunity to make changes that can eliminate bad practice. Many employers have expressed an appetite for measures to prevent poor practice and again, Equity can help with this.
A first, practical step that employers can take is to sign up right now to Equity’s Manifesto for Casting, available at equity.org.uk/campaigns/manifesto-for-casting/.
The manifesto sets out Equity’s vision of how the process of casting — which is the main recruitment method used in our industry — can be made more professional, fairer, less stressful and more inclusive. The manifesto reminds employers that it is unlawful to discriminate in the engagement of performers on the grounds of their Protected Characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010.
Crucially, the manifesto also reiterates important provisions covering nudity and sex scenes from Equity’s collective agreements, namely, that no sex act should be requested at any audition and a performer should not be requested to undress in whole or in part unless a mutually agreed observer is present.
In the weeks ahead as the media interest in this story begins to wane, Equity will continue to organise and campaign around this issue. We will do all that we can to ensure that the statements that have been made by those with power in our industry are followed up with concrete and real action which will bring about the radical change needed to make our industry safer for all creative workers.
Christine Payne is the general secretary of Equity.