Emergency Declared in U.K. Unscripted TV Following ‘Unprecedented’ Work Drought

U.K. broadcasting union Bectu has declared an emergency over the “unprecedented” lack of work in the unscripted TV sector so far this year.

Bectu head Philippa Childs said in a statement she is “deeply concerned” about reports that freelancers working in unscripted are “struggling to find work.”

Childs was mandated to make the statement following the union’s national conference in Eastourne over the weekend, where a motion was carried from the union’s unscripted branch – which reps freelancers ranging from runners to exec producers in genres including factual entertainment, entertainment, documentary, non-scripted comedy, news, children, reality, live and natural history, among others – over the “uncharacteristic” lack of work. The motion noted it has been “unusually quiet for freelancers in the unscripted genres, and many have not worked at all since January or earlier.”

Bectu, which has implemented a survey to get some clarity on the scale of the issue and its impact on unscripted freelancers, is urging production companies, streamers and broadcasters to address the issue as a “matter of urgency.” Ideally, the union says, productions need to be green lit and budgets signed off ASAP.

Bectu is especially concerned that when work flow does return to normal levels there may not be enough workforce left to staff productions, with many freeelancers at all level having already left the industry during COVID.

Read Childs’s full statement below:

“We are deeply concerned at increasing reports of unscripted freelancers struggling to find work, with many telling us this is the longest period without work that they have ever experienced. Freelancers are critical to the success of the U.K.’s world-class film and TV production sector, however, at times it can be a lonely and uncertain profession. Many have already faced incredible challenges brought on by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, and work long hours to the detriment of their mental health, family lives and work/life balance. Now, many are struggling to simply get by.”

“The ‘feast or famine’ nature of the industry – whereby there may be an overabundance of work one minute, and none the next – is an incredibly challenging environment to work in and we urge the industry to come together not just to address the current crisis, but to commit to long-term change. Broadcasters must better communicate with freelancers and give them a seat at the table to find solutions to a system that places all of the risks of employment and unemployment on the individual workers.”

“Talented workers who are the backbone of the industry are suffering, and we must not underestimate the damaging impact of this system, both financially and in terms of mental health and wellbeing. Their skills, talents and livelihoods must be better respected. Bectu stands in solidarity with all unscripted freelancers at this difficult time and we call on broadcasters, streamers, production companies and other stakeholders to fully engage with us to seek and drive urgent change.” 

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