EXCLUSIVE: Thames, the Fremantle-owned producer behind Too hot to handle it and England has an incredible talent, is one of many UK production companies to insert controversial coronavirus clauses into crew contracts that could leave freelancers out of pocket and out of work for up to three weeks if a shoot is suspended.
Deadline obtained and reviewed screenshots of the Covid clauses in three different Thames contracts. They state that during the first three weeks of a suspension, the freelance writer will “remain exclusive to the business,” and Thames “will not be obligated to pay the individual’s fees and vacation pay will not be accrued.”
The terms have caused concern among freelancers and some are refusing to sign them. Two sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said Covid clauses appeared in crew contracts for the Netflix hit. Too hot to handle it and ITV broadcasts, such as Family fortunes. England has an incredible talent the crew were also asked to sign similar deals before production was scrapped by ITV last month.
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Thames parent company Fremantle UK said the terms were agreed upon by the producers’ trade body Pact and had become commonplace in the industry since last year. The production group added that it had not enforced the clauses and highlighted the wording in the agreements which states that freelancers can seek written consent to seek alternative employment during suspensions. When asked why he uses the clauses if they are not enforced, Fremantle did not comment.
Deadline knows other companies have adopted the clauses, but Thames has become a lightning rod for the problem among freelancers in the entertainment community and the company’s contract terms have been reported to the Bectu union. Two people familiar with the subject acknowledged that clauses are prevalent, but said some producers choose not to use them, while others take a more flexible approach. South Shore, backed by ITV Studios, for example, has adopted them in its shows, including last year’s ITV entertainment series. Don’t rock the boat, but withdrew them from contracts in the event of a dispute.
The terms also appear in the independent contracts of the scripted producers, although there is evidence that the crew are paid when they slaughter tools, albeit below the London living wage, according to agreements seen by the International Federation. cinematographs.
These clauses are an example of labor practices deeply rooted in the industry and ruthlessly brought to light by the pandemic. Freelancers cite the practice as an example of contract workers once again exposed to potentially catastrophic financial risk during the coronavirus crisis after thousands of people were devastated by the months-long production hiatus in 2020.
Producers and their trade organization Pact will tell you that they are only protecting their own interests because they are at the mercy of broadcasters and streamers, who have the power to suspend broadcasts in the event of a coronavirus incident. Producers also see the Covid clauses as an essential crutch to jumpstart production and provide jobs for the independent community.
Fremantle UK said it drafted the contract terms using the Pact documentation distributed when production resumed last year. Indeed, the language used in the Thames agreements is almost identical to the Pact model, although the Thames version goes further in anchoring paid leave.
Pact updated its model independent employment contract to reflect the pandemic, lifting Covid-19 suspension clauses from long-standing force majeure clauses. These clauses reflect public service broadcasters’ commissioning agreements, which give broadcasters the right to suspend production for three weeks before deciding whether to continue filming or abandon the project.
Before the pandemic, these clauses were rarely, if ever, used. They refer to catastrophic events, such as war, an “act of God” or the death of a prominent contributor. The problem is, these suspensions are now commonplace, and freelancers say they are bordering on terms that should only be used in truly exceptional circumstances.
“I have colleagues who have not worked for seven months, they have children and they fight for money, then they are asked to sign these clauses. It’s a lack of empathy for people’s lives, ”said a freelance writer familiar with Thames contracts. Another added: “If I lose my job, how can you expect that I don’t work for three weeks? It’s ridiculous. It’s just something I would never sign.
Pact deputy CEO Max Rumney acknowledged that the pandemic has made freelancers more aware of force majeure clauses. “It has come to the attention of the crews, who have probably signed these agreements for years, that Covid-19 is now a situation where a force majeure clause may have to be used. It would have been very unusual in the past, ”he said.
Rumney added that the models are not evangelical and can be adapted by producers to meet their own needs. “What it says in the model is that you don’t have to pay the crew member, but you can if you want to, and I know of members who do. Some members pay half price, others don’t. It’s not black and white, it depends on the circumstances of the Covid event and the finances of the program, ”he explained.
Bectu has been told the clauses are in circulation, while a Thames contract has been brought to the attention of union boss Philippa Childs. She called on producers to pay freelancers during suspensions or allow them to look for other jobs.
“Our principle is that freelancers shouldn’t really suffer under the current circumstances,” Childs told Deadline. “When people go back to work they want to be able to win and if they can’t because a production is on hiatus then we think they should be able to win elsewhere. Producers cannot have it both ways. “
Concerns have also been raised about Pact’s model contract for script production, although the difference with this model is that it was drafted in conjunction with Bectu. The International Federation of Filmmakers has seen evidence that freelancers are not being paid or receiving a flat fee of £ 350 ($ 492) per week when suspended, which it says is “contrary to all accepted standards of social dialogue ”.
A spokeswoman for Fremantle UK said: ‘This clause was introduced into Pact’s model production contracts, in response to the pandemic, as part of their production restart Bible in June of last year. . We have never applied it, but it is widely used in the industry and is designed as part of a range of measures to help the industry get back into production. With the restrictions lifted, we will continue to review the agreements. “
Deadline asked Netflix if it was comfortable with the clauses inserted in the contracts of Too hot to handle it crew members, given the work done to protect freelance pay during the pandemic. The streamer declined to comment. Seasons 2 and 3 of the hit reality show were filmed consecutively without a break from Covid and the show is now in post-production. Netflix paid the salaries of the cast and crew when its productions shut down last year, while the streamer contributed £ 1.75million to the Film and TV Charity’s Emergency Relief Fund for cash-strapped freelancers.