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Excessive hours and insufficient rest leading to life-threatening levels of fatigue in film and TV industry

14.12.21

Excessive hours and insufficient rest leading to life-threatening levels of fatigue in film and TV industry

Film and TV unions to unite in global campaign to end long-hours culture

A survey by UNI Global Union’s media, entertainment and arts sector (UNI MEI) has for the first time documented the working hours of film and TV production crew in different countries around the world, showing that excessive hours, lack of rest and life-threatening levels of fatigue are having a devastating impact on workers’ physical and mental health and family lives.

UNI gathered data on collective agreements, working hours and terms and conditions from 28 unions in 22 countries, representing more than 150,000 behind-the-scenes crew members in feature film production, independent television production and streaming content production.

Sixty-two per cent of those surveyed by UNI said the intensity of their work schedules “negatively impacted their mental wellbeing.” And more than a quarter of respondents in independent television production said extreme fatigue had resulted in grave accidents.

The survey reveals global trends of recurrent overtime, insufficient rest, extensive use of weekend work and disrespect for basic safety requirements that make working in the film and TV industry, unfair, unequal, unsafe and unsustainable for many workers.  

Johannes Studinger, Head of UNI MEI, said:

“The media industries have long-relied on people’s passion to drive long-hours, often at workers’ expense, but we’ve reached a breaking point where workers are saying that creating quality productions cannot rest on exploitation. Workers in the film and TV industry, which is dominated by multinational companies, are too often operating under sweatshop conditions that allow dangerously little time for rest and painfully little time for family life. That’s why we are demanding change across the board.” 

The findings, compiled into a report entitled ‘Demanding Dignity Behind the Scenes: Ending Long Hours Culture in the Global Film and TV Industry’ have mobilized UNI’s affiliates in the film and TV sector to unite in a global campaign to reducing working hours, raise minimum standards and ensure safe working hours and conditions worldwide.

UNI MEI President Matt Loeb, who is International President of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) in the U.S. and Canada, said:

“Member unions from across the world are committed to bring about change in the global film and TV industry putting an end to the long hours culture everywhere entertainment is produced. This is a long-term engagement and requires a global effort. Change will not happen overnight, and we are committed to work together across countries and support each other in our fight to improve conditions step by step. Our global campaign seeks to raise awareness across the industry about the impact of unsafe working conditions and hours, empower union action and engage employers as well as stakeholders.”

The global survey report lists recommendations calling for: the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining; wages and working hours must respect collective agreements, or in their absence national legal standards; overtime as voluntary and always compensated at a premium rate; policies to promote gender equality and increased diversity; a safe place to work, free from violence and harassment; and finally measures to minimize productions’ energy use and harmful impact on the environment.

KEY FINDINGS:

The survey found that workers toil on average, at least 11 hours per day, plus, at minimum, an additional one to two hours for “prep and wrap” duties before and after filming. This is true for workers in both film and TV productions, resulting in an overall average of at least 12 to 13 hours per day in all countries.

Work in excess of 50, or even 60, hours per week is common. For example, in the UK, workers average 50 hours per week, not including prep and wrap time. In other countries, including Iceland and Sweden, daily prep and wrap time is included in maximum hours standards.

Forty-one per cent of all respondents said that overtime is frequent during the week and 35 per cent said it is always required. Concerningly, 25 per cent of respondents said overtime work is not remunerated at a premium rate.

Across the industry, workers lack adequate “turnaround time” – a term referring to the period between shifts for rest and recuperation. This is considered one of the most brutal aspects of the industry because of its effect on mental and physical health. Provisions in collective agreements on turnaround range from 10 hours to 12 hours. However, in practice it is often much less, and this tally does not include the time it takes to travel to and from home or accommodation. Member unions have been campaigning and bargaining to improve provisions in collective agreements on turnaround and to better protect workers from productions encroaching on minimum rest between two days of production. Despite good progress made, the issue remains on top of the unions’ agendas.

Weekend work, which eliminates essential time for family, health and rest, is a common problem according to 41 per cent of respondents, while 18 per cent said it is always necessary.

The survey and meetings with UNI affiliates reveal that Fraturdays, when shooting on Friday extends into the early hours of Saturday, are becoming more frequent and these difficult schedules eliminate full weekends off for many workers.

In 12 of the 22 countries surveyed, collective bargaining agreements cover daily and weekly maximum hours as well as overtime. The agreements often also cover night work, rest periods, travel to and from the set and measures designed to ensure good work/life balance.

However, even when workers do have a collective agreement, not all companies respect the provisions in practice. Unions in several countries reported maximum weekly hours are greater than mandated in their agreements. In Argentina, for example, crew members work more than 50 hours per week and frequently work overtime on weekends despite the terms in their collective agreement.

In some cases, productions are not only defying the collective agreement but also breaking the national laws on working time. The Australian crew members’ union, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), reports their members regularly work more than 50 hours per week in practice, despite the fact that law limits the work week to 38 hours.

Download the full report ‘Demanding Dignity Behind the Scenes: Ending Long Hours Culture in the Global Film and TV Industry.