Union deals are ‘threat to film jobs – Director claims he gets paid less than electricians working on set

In Saturdays Independent there was an article about high labour costs in Ireland’s film industry ‘Union deals are ‘threat to film jobs’ – it’s not just jobs but the entire industry that is under threat . This has been an issue for many years but the is a reluctance on the part of  Screen Producers Ireland (SPI) to tackle this issue.

There are several binding agreements with craft Unions that have marred the industry through lack of reform. Most of these practices date back to when Ardmore Studios was first opened in 1958, and no longer meet today’s rapidly changing industry. For many years tax incentives camouflaged our lack of competitiveness particularly in the construction of sets. Period film/TV production require large set pieces which are very labour intensive, and make up a substantial part of the overall budget. Currently a non skilled labour is a guaranteed €1,184.04 per week excluding employers PRSI & PAYE, overtime, meals, and travelling expenses. However if you work in the production office or other departments working equally long hours you will probably receive less than half that amount. The reason rates of pay are so unbalanced within the industry is that the craft unions have for a long time threatened strike action and in recent years its not uncommon to have at least one industrial stoppage on evry production. Take for instance Camelot the latest period drama series which has just begun in Ardmore in the first week of construction starting there we two stoppages over which carpenters were taken on first.

Some of the practices which are driving up our labour costs  include:

  • All productions must accept that craft unions will choose 50% of the crew on your behalf, even if you don’t agree with those chosen.
  • Most productions done here over the past number of years in Ireland have been ‘micro’ budget jobs (below a one million) with smaller crews in all departments. Almost all will be using digital cameras with no requirement for track laying which is labour intensive. Despite this  production are forced to hire a construction crew for the shoot of a carpenter, painter, rigger and labour at a minimum cost to the production of €7,000 per week excluding employers PAYE, PRSI and overtime. Again if you try and proceed without these crew you will find a picket on your production.

In my role as a Construction Manager I have been physically &  mentally threatened by union members for not adhering to their demands. I have spoken on a number of occasions with Screen Producers Ireland of the actions of the unions and the need to rid the industry of such outdated conditions and behaviour. It would appear it’s easier for SPI to continue pay these penal rates that reform the system. Screen producers Ireland have counter acted these high rates and conditions by cutting pay rates of less unionised crew members in other departments and in some cases hiring trainees to fill positions and just paying them expenses.The atmosphere on set has become very tense  as crew try and deal with the actions of a minority within the industry,

The real question that needs to be answered  is why have  Screen Producers Ireland not pushed for reforms within the industry for the past 5 years when they know the industry is loosing work to Eastern Europe?. The industry is supported by the tax payers are we getting the best value for our money?

Reform is required now, we would all like to remain and work within our own industry but that hope is fading fast.

See Irish Independent article.

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Union deals are ‘threat to film job’

Director claims he gets paid less than electricians working on set.

From Saturdays Irish Independent Saturday May 15 2010 by John Drennan

Restrictive practices are threatening to kill off the multi-million-euro Irish film industry. One prominent director has claimed that electricians working in the film business are earning more than he does, with some pocketing €4,000 a week. Under a deal brokered by Screen Productions Ireland and Siptu, film makers are obliged to hire four standbys for tasks such as painting and electrical work.

The deal also allows electricians, carpenters and other building workers to claim for up to 130 hours’ work for each week on set — which is damaging the capacity of the industry to compete with European rivals.

“Electricians and other tradesmen are earning more than €4,000 a week. They’re earning more than directors with 35 years’ experience or actors or even the Taoiseach  for that matter,” says Fine Gael senator Fedelma Healy-Eames.

“Increasingly outside investors are saying that if a film needs an Irish atmosphere they should shoot it in Derry not Galway — it has all the atmosphere and none of the costs,” said Galway-based Ms Healy-Eames.

The senator’s claims were confirmed by Ralph Christians, the chief executive of the well-known Galway film company Magma. Speaking from Cannes, the film maker said: “It is a very hot issue but many people in the industry will not talk because they are afraid they will go on a blacklist.

“We have so many difficulties with the unions who come with the big hours and with people that we don’t need.

“Magma is a company that is in Galway for the long haul and we would like to build relationships with local contractors — but under the deal with the unions we’re not allowed to chose who we hire. The unions tell me who I get. They send me people from Dublin to Galway and then I have to put them up in the hotel as well.”

He says restrictive practices and high costs are seriously damaging investment in the Irish film industry.

“We are here 15 years in Galway and unlike RTE who cannot even sell films to the Faeroes we sell films through-out Europe and put Ireland on the map and bring in the money from abroad. High labour costs are now keeping foreign films away.”

No one from Siptu’s film branch was available for comment.

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