Photo credits: cyano66

After a week of tough negotiations, major international unions, employers, industry bodies, and governments have come to an agreement to advance workers' rights in the arts and entertainment sector.

The high-level meeting took place on 13-17 February at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, gathering together representatives from BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union), IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors GuildAmerican Federation of Television and Radio Artists), as well as the European Broadcasting Union and the International Federation of Film Producers' Associations, along with government ministers from several EU countries, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. According to the UNI Global Union, it was the first meeting of this kind for the entertainment sector since 2014, although no representative from the UK or US governments attended.

The group debated issues such as long hours, low pay and inequalities before drawing their conclusions, which placed heavy emphasis on collective bargaining as a tool to improve working conditions. Another issue on the agenda was how to more fairly compensate producers, performers, and authors for their work with global streamers. The talks also addressed emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), and their potential impact on the industry. While recognising the opportunities that AI provides, representatives emphasised the need for a human-centred approach.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the European cultural and creative industry lost more than 30% of its revenue in 2020, leaving thousands of workers with almost no resources and highlighting structural inequalities within the sector. Artists, creators and cultural operators were severely impacted by the enforcement of social distancing measures and the consequent postponements, cancellations or closures of events, live performances, exhibitions, museums and cultural institutions. Companies have downsized or spent less on freelancers, exacerbating financial concerns. Russia's invasion of Ukraine and inflated living costs have also contributed to economic difficulties. According to Philippa Childs, Vice President of UNI Global Union’s Media Entertainment & Arts sector (UNI MEI), these difficult times gave workers a chance to reflect and think about their future career prospects. ‘Many have left the industry and it’s uncertain they will return, leading to the skills shortage that we have in the UK and globally. We need to improve working conditions and opportunities if we are to turn this situation around’.

The main outcome is a blueprint aimed at addressing ‘decent work deficits’, including measures such as limiting working hours, providing comprehensive social protection to all employees and freelancers, and using public funding to address skills shortages. Among other provisions, the blueprint calls for strong labour inspection systems to ensure safe and healthy working environments, addressing violence and harassment, and investment to create a greener industry. In addition, the sector's inequality should be tackled ‘through a lens of diversity, equality and inclusion’, according to the document. Childs said: ‘We’ve made a lot of progress, and these conclusions will enable us to put pressure on employers and governments around the key items on our agenda, particularly the issue of long hours in our industries’.

The blueprint will be approved at an ILO meeting in March 2023, making it an official document. For John Lewis, International Vice President at IATSE in Canada, the agreement is ‘a positive result’, establishing a starting point to launch further discussions with national governments to enhance access to collective bargaining, ensure copyright protection, and address long working hours, impacting everyone in the industry globally.