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Bectu has accused Channel 4 of ignoring freelancers’ “vital” contribution to the broadcasters success with its decision to pay an extra £15m to permanent stuff that have helped grow the business in the past year.

Under its retention policy, introduced last June, C4 is giving the bulk of its staff a one-off retention payment of 15% on top of their salaries. Staff at a leadership level, including commissioners get 20%, while its 10 genre heads each get 25%.

In a reversal of its original plan, its most senior trio of chief executive Alex Mahon, chief content officer Ian Katz and chief operating officer Jonathan Allan, will all receive the 25% payment – totalling almost £400,000 extra between them.

Bectu chair Philippa Childs said the union is “disappointed” at the news as it “seemingly ignores the vital contribution that freelancers make to Channel 4’s success”.

The timing of the payments has also rankled. Earlier this month, in an echo of comments made by his Channel 5 equivalent Ben Frow, Katz admitted that C4 was taking the brakes off commissioning over the next few months.

“We came out of Covid and commissioned quite fast, quite intentionally because the cupboards were empty, but that does mean we’re quite well stocked right through this year and into the first half of next year,” he told the Wales Screen Summit.

He did, however, acknowledge that the slowdown is hitting freelancers, adding; “We’re thinking really hard about what we can do for indies to help support them.” 

Last week meanwhile, Broadcast revealed that 15 to 20 people working on MultiStoryMedia’s 20-part series Four Weddings were left without work after C4 cancelled the show several weeks into production on cost-saving grounds.

Childs said details of C4’s staff payments was particularly concerning “at a time when the broadcaster has acknowledged the UK commissioning slowdown, and amidst reports of cancelled series that have left freelancers without work at very short notice”.

The union recently declared a “state of emergency” in unscripted TV in particular and last week published the results of a survey of 2,000 freelancers that revealed that 45% of them were currently without work and a similar number did not see themselves remaining in TV production in five years’ time.

“As Bectu has made clear, thousands of freelancers are struggling to get by as they continue to face precarious employment, compounded by a lack of government support during the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis,” Childs said.

“We know from our recent research just how difficult things are for many TV freelancers, and many are already questioning their future in the industry. This announcement from the broadcaster comes at a challenging time for the freelance TV sector, and it’s disappointing there is no apparent acknowledgement of how vital freelancers’ skills and expertise are to Channel 4.

“Bectu is talking with broadcasters and other industry stakeholders, including Channel 4, to urgently seek solutions to the current freelancer employment crisis, and to help drive long-term security for the freelance workforce.”

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