Following Up From Our Meeting with Bectu - Why Fashion Needs A Union. By @fashionassistants. The Voice Behind The Anonymous Instagram Page Highlighting Systemic Abuses In The Fashion Industry.
Meeting held on the 26th of February, 2019
Tamara Cincik of Fashion Roundtable chaired the Q&A
Spencer MacDonald - National Secretary of BECTU
Drawing from a 20 year career in styling, Tamara Cincik notes, “Insurance cover from Bectu not only ensures you are protected for loss of work equipment (in fashion’s case that is designer clothes and photographic equipment worth the price of a down payment on a London flat), it is also massively cheaper than the insurance I had as a stylist, which cost me hundreds. £31 a year (yes you read that right), for cover up to £10m and it will go up to £38 to cover work accident cover later this year. Getting the support on billing and bullying, but this kind of 360 proper advice and assistance seems to be not only correct for a 21st Century workforce, it seems necessary.”
In short, let me summarise what we hope to do and what we need you to do. We are working with BECTU to find a way to create a sector for creatives just like you and me. The assistants and freelancers in fashion, make up, hair, PR, the works! If this goes ahead (we need your support and there’s been quite the case of people showing support but not actually turning up) it would cost £10 p/month (same as Netflix and Spotify) and once you’re a member you can pay £38 for the year (April to April) to get full public liability insurance. This would cover £10 million globally and when you think about the sheer volume and value of the items a stylist and assistant transports, this makes huge sense. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of items in suitcases which are often stored on your own personal property overnight and if anything is lost or damaged, a lot of people don’t have any insurance to deal with this sort of dilemma should they encounter it. So if the worse happened the insurance company could converse with the production or company about the issue. BECTU also has a magazine within which persistence non-payers can be named and shamed. Now as well as the quite convincing argument just discussed, they would help fight your corner if you encounter any wrong-doings, late payments and you would offer advice when needed.
One very important and useful piece of information I came away after the Q&A was regarding invoices - all invoices should say ‘This invoice must be paid within 30 days.’ After 30 days you are entitled to charge interest – of the base rate + 8% so currently 8.75%. Additionally the Late Payment of commercial interest act of 1998 allows you to charge a ‘collection’ fee of £40 on debts under £1000 and £70 on debts over. BECTU would chase the employer for you and inform them that if they do not pay then they have a duty to warn other members of this particular employer.
This all sounds like it’s a basic right of a freelancer, right? The film, TV and theatre industry have unions in place and there are internal groups who keep in close contact and discuss any employers who should be avoided for whatever reasons and work together to combat any issues together. Can’t we do this for fashion?
BECTU needs proof that 40 or more individuals are keen to commit to this cause and considering just over 10% of the online RSVP’s for the talk actually showed up, it doesn’t look all that convincing. We need to want this enough to put our foot down and support each other as well as ourselves. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been assisting for years, this could benefit us all. One great example of people banding together to fight for what they want and deserve comes from the sparks (lighting technicians) hired for the Star Wars film. The company did not want to meet their set day rate, therefor the workers planned to refuse the offer, all of them. Therefore the company had to make a decision and decide whether they’d seek alternative staff for a cheaper rate but potentially not as skilled which could delay the whole project or agree to the sparks’ terms, and they did! The set rate came from the APA, which stands for the Alliance for Producers Association. They have set rates that their teams go out for.
For this sort of standard fee to be respected and applied to the industry we would need assistants within the industry to band together. Would this be possible? If we started a space or means of contact which would allow us to share our expected day rates, warn anyone we needed to or advise each other where necessary then the constant problems we find ourselves facing could hopefully decrease and, who knows, maybe one day disappear.
To follow the systemic issues being faced by assistants in the fashion industry: from non-payment, racial, sexual and verbal abuse, please follow @fashionassistants in Instagram.