Global Survey of Film, TV Unions Lays Bare Excessive Hours Culture, Mental Health Consequences (EXCLUSIVE)

A global survey of film and television workers has laid bare the effects of the screen industry’s long-hours culture on crews’ mental and physical wellbeing.

UNI Global Union’s media, entertainment and arts sector (MEI), which represents workers in the skills and services sector, surveyed 150,000 crew members across 22 countries in feature film production, independent television production and streaming content production.

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UNI MEI counts IATSE among its affiliates.

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

62% of those surveyed said their mental wellbeing had been “negatively impacted” by their work schedules and more than 25% in independent television production said “extreme fatigue” had resulted in serious incidents.

The survey, which asked about collective agreements, working hours and terms and conditions, revealed that film and TV workers toil an average of 12-13 hours per day, of which one to two hours include “prep and wrap.” In the U.K., a 50-hour working week is the average in the industry, the survey found, a figure that does not include prep and wrap time.

Other aspects of the survey dealt with pressing issues such as turnaround time, which is the time between finishing work and returning the next day, overtime and weekend work.

35% of members surveyed said they are always required to do overtime during the week, while 41% said weekday overtime is “frequent.” The same percentage said weekend work is common and 18% said it was “always necessary.” The survey also found out that “Fraturdays” – where Friday shoots bleed into the early hours of Saturday – are becoming more common.

While unions in 12 countries out of the 22 surveyed said they had collective bargaining agreements in place, which set out the mandated hours for work and rest, in some countries countries these – along with local laws on workings hours – are flagrantly disregarded.

In particular, members reported that in practice, they often get much less than the mandatory 10-12 hours turnaround time required in collective bargaining agreements, especially since travel time between home and set (which, depending on the location of the studio, can be significant) is included in the turnaround time, eating into the time crews have to eat, unwind and sleep.

In Argentina, the survey found, crews average more than 50 hours per week and often work overtime on weekends, in contravention of their collective agreement while in Australia crew members are working on average 12 hours more per week than allowed by the law.

UNI MEI also collected anonymous testimonies from members across the world, including one from a member of the U.K.’s crew union BECTU who reported working on an entertainment show where crew members were expected to do overtime every night for no extra pay, were scolded for drinking tea in the morning and questioned when they went to use the restrooms.

Meanwhile an Australian crew member said work that would normally take a week was being squeezed into one or two days due to unreasonable scheduling. “Workers are being worked too hard with no let up,” said the anonymous Australian crew member. “We feel expendable.”

The global survey, which in total surveyed 28 unions across the globe, has resulted in a report by UNI MEI that lists a number of recommendations including the right to collective bargaining, respecting collective agreements that are in place and for overtime to be voluntary and compensated at a premium rate.

UNI MEI is now spearheading a global campaign to ensure safe working conditions and hours across the world, including reducing working hours and raising minimum standards.

“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,” said Johannes Studinger, head of UNI MEI. “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.”

IATSE international president and UNI MEI president Matt Loeb added: “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.”

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