I have written on many occasions about the need for change in working conditions in the Irish film and television industry particularly relating to craft union agreements. The industry needs greater flexibility if the industry is to grow and at the same time create more regular work for all those who work within the industry. There is also a need for greater transparency on agreements.
Greater flexibility and change within the industry does in my opinion not mean driving down rates of pay. I would argue that the nomination system has been the most contentious issues over the last 10 years and has added significantly to the over all cost of set building. It is the uncertainty of competence and lack of commitment that cannot be costed. For those of you not familiar with nomination, when a producers wishes to employ craft workers for a new project, all craft workers must be a member of the relevant union which is not an issue. However on top of that it is a union official who decides who half of that crew will be.
The producers go to great lengths to select key people including the director, production designer, costume designer, prop master and others. They also employ a construction manager whose role it is to generate a budget for set construction and ensure that labour and materials come in on time and on budget. In any other industry it would be a given that as head of that department that the construction manager would be given total autonomy in selecting the best team to accomplish the tasks. Not so in Irish Film, for the past 30 years Irish producers have allowed union officials without any expertise and little knowledge of the project to choose who half of that crew should be. Some good people may have come through this system, but over the past 10 years it has been manipulated by some to ensure they have continuous employment, standards have slipped, and some worker appeared to believe it’s the unions not the production that employs them.
Construction managers down through the years have complained how ridiculous this system is and the fact that if a project is not completed on time and on budget it’s not the ineffective craft worker whose future employment will be affected but the construction manager.
Screen Producers Ireland (SPI) and the craft unions have been engaged in protracted talks for almost 18 months regarding a new national agreement. Through that time it is my understanding the unions precondition fro remaining in talks was their insistence that nomination would be part of the overall agreement. Last week SPI informed the craft unions that following careful consultation with other stakeholders, they have decided that it would not be prudent for the Irish Film & TV industry to have nomination as part of a national agreement.
Like many of the perks enjoyed by civil servants that have come to light in recent years such as additional holidays, cheque cashing time, are seen as a drain on finances, so too nomination has no place in today film industry. While it would be easy to place the blame entirely on the unions, Irish Producers have been very slow to point out to the craft unions how damaging this practice has been and how far out of touch we are with our competitors, and in many cases have abetted its grip over the entire industry.
The Irish film industry that once was riding high with success is at the bottom of the pile right now, while 180Km up the road in Northern Ireland industry is going from strength to strength. Hanging on to outdated work practices are detrimental to any revival of an Irish Film Industry. A change must come.
Categories: Film and TV