Events workers stage Day of Action across Britain

Yesterday (30 September 2020), events professionals around the country took part in various actions to expose the dire situation facing workers in this highly profitable industry. Graham Dakin writes about the conditions and challenges that have led them to this point.

Graham Dakin is a Bectu activist and campaigning socialist.

Due to Covid-19 the live entertainment industry has essentially disappeared overnight — and the women and men who work hard to bring events to the stage are facing possible destitution

FOURTEEN hours spent building a gigantic LED wall for a corporate client at Old Billingsgate Market — the date was February 18 and it would be my last full day of work this year: news of the coronavirus spreading was already coming thick and fast and jobs were quickly starting to vanish.

After eight years in the industry, I expected 2020 to be my most successful yet. Seven months later, there is still no clarity on when I will be able to return to work. The live-events industry was the first to close its doors and will probably be the last to return. There have been many ups and downs since then, including the waiting game with HM Revenue and Customs and our efforts to be recognised for financial support.

Many people in our industry spoke publicly about their situation, while unions like Bectu lobbied the government tirelessly.

Eventually, the self-employed income-support scheme (SEISS) was announced, offering certain freelancers a degree of help — but this was severely limited and many thousands fell through the cracks through no fault of their own.

Events Professionals are among the worst hit workers affected by the Coronavirus Crisis

Freelancers who, under the advice of accountants, had registered themselves as limited companies — dividing their income between wages and dividend — were only able to claim 80 per cent of minimum wage under the furlough scheme, later dropping to 60 per cent. Those newly registered as self-employed saw no support at all.

The government’s unwillingness to recognise the variety of freelancers’ circumstances was bad enough, but this changed to border on insulting with the announcement of the replacement schemes for winter on the September 24.

SEISS was extended but now down to 20 per cent from the original 80 per cent and a secondary 70 per cent will leave many in our industry facing destitution this winter. The replacement to the furlough scheme features much the same conditions with a massive reliance on employers to make up the money.

Regardless of these schemes, there is no support for the industry at large — nothing to stop the many suppliers and venues going bust in the next six months before they will be able to return to work.

In the messaging of these new schemes there is regular reference to supporting viable businesses, with the implication being that we are “not viable” in the new normal. It seems incredibly short sighted to not recognise the enormous part to play in the economy by our industry when this is all over.

Advice from the government has been confused at best, with information changing day to day, sometimes even hour by hour.

Of course, the nature of life under Covid-19 is changeable. But it is inadequate communication between government departments and the public that leaves freelancers and their employers unable to effectively plan their futures.

The “world-beating” £1.57 billion funding package has been passed off as a catch-all solution — but a similar deal in France will see its cultural sector receive three times that amount in aid.

Indeed, the funding already seems to have dried up without even reaching large swathes of the industry.

The Royal Albert Hall, arguably the crown jewel in London’s events venue network, has stated it would need £12 million to survive through the winter. When considering the importance of support, it is crucial to remember the events industry’s contribution to Britain’s economy — employing over 700,000 people and raking in over £70bn a year.

The industry is vast, stretching from the front-facing performers and musicians to those behind the curtain — cleaners, drivers, techs and many thousands of crew.

All of these play a vital role and they all rely on events for their livelihoods. The industry’s projected losses for this year are £77bn — clearly a £1.57bn bailout is not going to cut it.

On September 30, in cities up and down the country, we as events-industry workers will take part in a whole host of actions, projections and activities under the banner #wemakeevents.

Many of us have suffered not only financially but psychologically during the crisis and want nothing more than to return to the events world we love. While this is not possible without an effective Covid-19 vaccine, we must recognise that without further aid the industry as we recognise it will not survive the crisis, taking workers like us down with it.

We are therefore prepared to demand the support that we need and call on the government to implement the following programmes:

  • An full extension to the furlough scheme for the theatre and live-events industries until spring 2021, with exemptions for employers’ contribution. This should be at a minimum of 60 per cent of wages
  • An extension of the SEISS until spring 2021, at a minumum of 60 per cent not the current 20 per cent
  • Adapting the schemes to make sure those industry workers who have been excluded are eligible to access support
  • Government pressure on insurance companies to cover live events and theatre shows as these industries return.

Despite these choppy waters, there is hope on the horizon for events workers.

The situation we find ourselves in has led to a great surge in union activity and a massive rise in membership — in an industry that has traditionally been resistant to union recruitment.

New branches are springing up and working people are coming together to fight for their livelihoods and the industry they love. If we keep fighting, we will win.

Graham Dakin

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