Almost three-quarters of respondents to Bectu’s State of Play report believe TV recruitment practices are unfair, with nepotism rife and freelancers disadvantaged by a lack of training.
Among more than 1,200 people who took part in the union’s survey into conditions in unscripted TV production, 73% described recruitment practices as unfair, with 68% saying they received no feedback to failed applications.
Many described feeling ‘pigeonholed’ by the previous shows they had worked on, the genres they had worked in and the channels they had made programmes for, particularly when employers wanted to make a last-minute hire.
Other common obstacles included ‘going through the motions’ for jobs where the recruiter already had someone in mind, a lack of detail in terms of location, start/end dates, rates, and whether the role would be office- or location-based.
Some criticised the use of closed Facebook groups to advertise roles, which contributes to employers hiring the person they know over the right person for the job. Some 76% had witnessed nepotism in hiring, while 68% said they had experienced no feedback after being declined for a job.
When it comes to development, 81% freelancers said they have received no relevant development or training.
While it is accepted that some productions will demand extra hours, the report repeatedly makes the case that unscripted TV makes too much demands on people’s time in terms of round-the-clock availability, consecutive late nights and early starts and inconsistencies in overtime pay and the protection offered by unionised elements of the industry.
Being expected to work excessive hours - in some cases, up to 70-100 hours a week - was the most common factor in workplace discontent, identified by 68% of respondents, with some highlighting a lack of accountability in terms of health and safety.
One assistant producer said they worked on a production where “the shortest day of a 23-day filming schedule was around 16 hours” while a production manager described the “horrific” experience of “working 18 to 20-hour days for two months”.
For freelancers, these assumptions are enshrined in the buy-out contract, which effectively lays the responsibility for the consequences of poor management decisions at the feet of the worker.
Describing working hours as ‘in line with business needs’, one producer suggests, establishes a gap between the expected results and the necessary workload to achieve them. Anyone invoicing for extra hours or days is “implying that you didn’t manage your workload properly or that the extra work wasn’t authorised in advance,” the producer said.
Bullying and harassment
As detailed in Bectu's interim report in January, 93% said they had been mistreated at work. The update highlights that 54% had been ‘bullied, harassed or belittled’ by a manager, with 65% saying they felt ‘undermined’ by a more senior figure.
Meanwhile, 28% had been bullied, harassed or belittled by a fellow team member, and 22% by on-screen talent or contributors.
Some 61% have experienced or witnessed bullying but not reported it. The primary reason for staying quiet, identified by 42%, is a fear that speaking up would negatively affect future work prospects.
Only one in four believe production teams are managed well half the time or more and 70% of individuals with management responsibilities said they had received management training.
Asked what would help improve management practices in the industry, 77% said the blame lies with broadcasters, which should commission series or projects earlier. The report identifies a feeling that commissioning editors have “too much power” despite the fact that many “don’t know how [production] works on the ground” and as a result, they “often hinder the production wasting time and money. It quotes one respondent as saying commissioners are “treated like gods but act like spoilt children demanding the undeliverable”, given to “temper tantrums” that go “unchecked”.
Meanwhile, 73% said senior team members should have compulsory management training. Almost two-thirds - 63% - called for better HR report, while a third said there should be fewer freelance senior managers.