Over 1,000 workers ‘suspended without pay in UK film industry’ amid strikes

A protest in July by members of the British union Equity in Leicester Square, London, in solidarity with striking Hollywood actors. (Ian West/PA)
A protest in July by members of the British union Equity in Leicester Square, London, in solidarity with striking Hollywood actors. (Ian West/PA)

More than 1,000 workers in the UK film industry are suspended without pay amid strikes by Hollywood writers and actors, according to a union.

Productions that were filming in the UK – such as musical Wicked, Deadpool 3 and a Formula 1 feature film starring Brad Pitt – have been paused amid the US-based industrial action.

Spencer MacDonald, national secretary of creative industries trade union Bectu, told a webinar he has witnessed workers being suspended under clauses in “one-sided contracts” known as “force majeure”.

Otherwise known as an act of God, this means fewer legal requirements on employers.

Mr MacDonald said: “There’s a system that provides production with a full protection, so what they do is they suspend the crew and the cast, there’s no actually ongoing costs to them but the individuals are still under contract to the production.

“How can (this) situation be fair when they abandon the crew in this situation? So the industry really needs to seriously catch up with what’s actually happening.”

On Monday, the Film and TV Charity announced an extra £500,000 to support UK film, TV and cinema workers in urgent financial need as the body had seen an 800% surge in applications for grants this summer.

Members of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (Sag-Aftra) have been on strike since July 14 after negotiations over new contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down.

Equity general secretary Paul Fleming, who represents British actors who are not striking, also told the video call: “What we’re seeing is that the longer the dispute goes on, the deeper it will go and more intractable it will go, and the more the UK industry will get a cold – that is necessary in order to ensure that Sag-Aftra win.

“And in order to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position to win as big as Sag-Aftra is going to win in our own negotiations and through the coming months.”

He said Equity members are “annoyed, frustrated and upset” but the fault lies with studio companies.

Mr Fleming, whose union organised a solidarity protest with British actors Simon Pegg and Brian Cox in London in July, added: “Of course (members are) upset – it’s not with the unions in my experience – 30 odd days’ worth of strike action is not something you get hacked off about.

“But every day of your working life (being) screwed over by the same producers who are screwing over our comrades in the United States around the world means… that you tend to know who the real enemy is in this situation.”

The chief negotiator of Sag-Afra’s strikes acknowledged during the webinar that workers around the world are “hurting”.

Hollywood actors strike
Equity General Secretary Paul Fleming at a protest in July as Brian Cox sits in the background. (Ian West/PA)

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the “responsibility lies” with the AMPTP not having “negotiations or meaningful conversations” with his union.

He added: “Thankfully, they did finally decide to come back to the table with the Writers Guild over a week ago, those talks are ongoing.”

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) began industrial action on May 2 over similar issues including pay and the threat of artificial intelligence (AI).

Mr Crabtree-Ireland was asked about a report that Wall Street has asked the AMPTP to get back to work in 60 days or traders will start selling studio stock.

He replied: “A number of analysts have basically called out the CEOs for getting into this fight in the first place and said, ‘This is ridiculous, you should just pay your creative talent and move on and stop this dispute’.

“And so I think that is that is very telling, because let me just assure anyone who’s not familiar with them – they are not exactly union allies, as a general rule.”

He added that investors have said they will “move investments elsewhere, which obviously would potentially have a negative impact on stock prices”.

Mr Crabtree-Ireland confirmed that picket lines have been cancelled on Monday in Los Angeles due to a tropical storm and a 5.1 magnitude earthquake in the city.