After a lengthy negotiation process, the trade union SIPTU and the producers lobby group Screen Producers Ireland announced this week that a new ‘Shooting Crew’ agreement has been accepted by producers and film workers. The new pact, covering pay rates and work practices in film and TV drama production, follows three years of on-off talks to update the previous document from 2010.
The new agreement crystallises minimum pay rates for SIPTU members in some 93 grades, doubling the scope of the 2010 version and reflecting the influence of the numerous newly established Guilds who contributed to its evolution (more on this below). Rates have understandably been increased since the 2010 documents. At first glance, the difference appears to exceed the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index since 2010, which is good news for film workers. Those working primarily on very low-budget productions, however, may not enjoy the same boost, as the agreement introduces a new micro budget category (under €750k for films, €250k per hour for TV series). Minimum rates in this category will be negotiable, above a specified minimum of €615 for the standard 50-hour industry working week. Presumably, these figures are based on standard practices emerging over the past decade.
At the other end of the scale, a new ‘Super’ category will cover films spending €20m+ or €8m per TV hour. Workers on these productions will enjoy at least a 3 percent premium on the rates applicable to ‘Large’ productions (€4m-€20m/€1.5m per TV hour). Although such ‘super’ sized productions are extremely rare, Ireland’s Section 481 tax credit scheme continues to evolve in order to target activity of this nature, and the ‘super’ rates reflect this ambition.
It is unlikely that even Foundation, reported to be the most expensive production ever undertaken in Ireland, would fall into this category. The 10-part series, filming at Limerick’s Troy Studios this year, attracted a tax credit of somewhere between €10 million and €30 million according to figures recently published by the Revenue Commissioners, indicating an Irish spend of somewhere between €3m – €9m per episode (precise tax credit figures are not published, supposedly for competitive reasons). Unless its Irish spend is at the extreme end of this scale, Foundation is most likely in the ‘Large’ category. Other TV drama productions of similar scale (in terms of their published tax credits) in recent years include Nightflyers (Syfy/Netflix, 2018), Into The Badlands (AMC, 2017-2020), Vikings (History, 2013-2020), Penny Dreadful (Showtime/Sky 2014-2016), and Fate: The Winx Saga (Netflix, 2021).
Further analysis of pay rates, changes to the standard working week, and other aspects of the new agreement will follow in due course, pending official distribution of the finalised Agreement.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the 2020 agreement is the long-overdue creation of an industry pension scheme, modelled on arrangements in the construction industry (which has a similar employment structure heavily dependent on ‘freelance’ workers). While full details have yet to be announced, it appears that the scheme will in fact be administered by CPAS, the Construction Industry Federation’s pension subsidiary (some film construction workers, of course, are already members of that scheme). The proposed arrangement demonstrates the validity of SIPTU’s longstanding insistence that such a system was both necessary and possible. SIPTU’s press release, however, omits any mention of pension arrangements – indicating, perhaps, that there are still some important details to be ironed out.
As reported here recently, progress towards the new agreement has been greatly boosted by a renewed interest in labour organisation throughout the industry, where trade union membership had declined precipitously since the 1990s. SIPTU’s authority was bolstered by a boost in membership following the establishment of a number of industry Guilds under the umbrella organisation Screen Guilds of Ireland, and a subsequent arrangement with SIPTU. The union’s renewed strength, aligned with the vibrancy of the Guilds, appears to be producing a notable improvement in industrial relations in the industry, reversing a situation that some considered detrimental to its long term viability.
The new labour agreement, which comes into effect on January 1st 2021, is testament to that improvement.