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The freelance model for unscripted TV is “broken and unsustainable” due to widespread “discrimination, nepotism and bullying” and unrealistic and inhumane expectations that make a work-life balance impossible, according to a stark Bectu report.

The union’s State of Play report paints a picture of working conditions characterised by micromanagement, long, inflexible working hours and a ‘culture of fear’ in which good leadership is the exception, with huge pay disparity among freelancers. One series producer calculated that given their overtime, they would have earned a higher hourly rate at McDonald's.

With commissioners 'out of touch' with production costs and production companies 'complicit in their keenness to secure contracts', freelancers become the victims of poor management as teams cut corners to deliver their projects, the document states.

In the damning 100-page report, which draws on a survey of 1,200 people, Bectu’s newly-renamed Unscripted TV Union described as “an open secret” that production teams are “routinely required to fulfil unrealistic expectations with inadequate resources and within timeframes that militate against equitable recruitment and humane working practices.”

It described professionals at all levels as “effectively complicit in this system due to a culture that normalises and valorises working excessive hours with relatively little compensation: this is ‘just the way the industry works’.”

Bectu makes six core recommendations:

  • Broadcasters to jointly agree and adopt a code of practice to enable and support ethical working practices, making them accountable for realistic lead times and budgets, including minimum rates of pay
  • A kitemark for production companies that demonstrate commitment to ethical employment practices for all staff and freelancers, including appropriate training for recruiters, flexible working patterns and supporting formal training and informal mentoring. Broadcasters would be set a quota of productions commissioned from kite-marked companies
  • Bectu and other trade organisations to work with industry leaders to establish employment standards and protocols for areas such as dignity and inclusivity in the workplace, plus transparent recruitment that can be discovered by online searchers rather than behind paywalls or through social media
  • The creation of an Ofcom-recognised third-party cross-industry body that monitors human resources practices and protects the rights of employees, including freelancers
  • A DCMS-supported industry coalition to work with ScreenSkills to identify and fill training gaps among recruitment staff
  • The DCMS to enforce compliance with these measures, and to fund development in priority areas such as management skills 


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