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Creative Industries Can’t Be Forgotten as U.K. Government Tries to Ease Lockdown (Guest Column)

Boris Johnson
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Philippa Childs, head of U.K. entertainment union Bectu, warns that creative workers who are still not covered by coronavirus relief schemes can’t be forgotten as the government deliberates how to bring industries out of lockdown.

I can only imagine how daunting it must be returning to work to a national crisis after suffering from a serious illness, but welcome back Prime Minister.

It took Boris Johnson three weeks to get back to his desk after contracting coronavirus and now he has to assess how quickly the nation can return to work. There have been many mixed messages about how this process will take place, with some suggesting that a plan will be announced later this week.

This is amid signs that parts of the economy are gearing up to start working again with sectoral groups made up of industry, government and unions meeting to discuss action.

The Prime Minister must strike a balance and ensure that any change in lockdown for some sectors doesn’t lead to other areas of the economy, such as the creative industries which contributes over £100 billion ($125.6 billion) a year to the economy, being overlooked or forgotten.

Bectu members and employers across the creative industries are already grappling with what a return to work might look like.

Film and TV bodies, including Bectu, have started discussing how production may take place once the industry gets a greenlight to return to work. Broadcasters are keen for production to resume as they are looking at plugging huge gaps in their schedules.

Just like retail, construction and car manufacturers, our industries will operate differently from pre-crisis. For example, TV production may take longer as crew are staggered to do tasks at separate times in the day rather than various departments all working at the same time. The implications of this are that there may be fewer job opportunities.

Our priority is to ensure that the health and safety of our members is paramount when the lockdown starts to ease, but also to ensure that where a lockdown is still in place people are able to access financial support.

For example, our members in theaters, live events and cinemas are likely to be waiting to return to work later than other parts of the economy. Their work relies on people gathering together to see and experience a play, a concert or a film — coronavirus prevention measures mean that this just isn’t practical. Once measures are relaxed further they also need lead time for ticket sales, creating another delay for people to get back to work, as well as ensuring that the public feel confident enough to attend such events in sufficient numbers to make them viable.

Bectu’s lobbying and the work of our negotiating officials means that many of those who are employed on casual contracts or move from employer to employer through the PAYE system are able to be furloughed if they fall within the correct dates of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Bectu has successfully negotiated furlough deals in 95% of the theaters, cinemas and independent art galleries where we have members.

However, the stark reality is that many people working across the creative industries still don’t have access to income support. We continue to campaign to close the gaps in for people who don’t qualify for the CJRS or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. The workplaces of many of these freelancers were some of the first to shut down as coronavirus protection measures were rolled out and now they may be the last to open.

That is why when considering how the country returns to work, the life of these schemes must be extended and those who are currently not eligible must be included.

Many of our members are telling us that they have not been given parity of access to the income support schemes. Now is the time for the government to take action and ensure that they are not left dangling without a lifeline if our industries face a prolonged lockdown.

Philippa Childs is the head of Bectu, which represents more than 40,000 staff, contract and freelance workers across the U.K.’s media and entertainment industries.