ICTU Biennial Conference, Belfast 2021

By Gerry O’Brien

I had the pleasure to second a motion proposed by our colleagues in Equity (UK) at the Irish Congress of Trades Union biennial conference in Belfast last week. The motion was proposed by the Northern Irish executive of Equity which is affiliated to Congress. This motion was adopted unanimously and now brings the two unions, Equity and Irish Equity, closer in their shared aim of protecting the rights of performers working on international co-productions in Ireland. All unions are stronger when they work together for the benefit of our members and it is important that we do not become the weak link that undermines the hard fought for agreements of our colleagues in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. 

My colleague, Alan McKee of the Northern Ireland Executive of Equity, in addressing the motion paid tribute to Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer, who’s life ended so tragically on the film set of a movie on which she was working recently in the US. He explained the tradition in our industry that performers and creatives celebrate the passing of one of our colleagues with applause for a life well lived. Congress gave Halyna Hutchins a resounding farewell.

The motion read as follows:

22. Support for Creative Industries 

The challenges of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for ongoing co-operation between Equity and our ICTU comrades in Irish Equity. While cross border work in the creative industries provides work opportunities for members of both trade unions, there must be a strong, united effort to prevent any deterioration of working conditions and to reinforce the protections provided by union negotiated agreements, especially as an increasing number of foreign production companies seek to operate in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The ICTU commits to working closely with creative industries unions to protect the shared interests of our members across the island of Ireland. 

Seconding the motion, Gerry O’Brien, President Irish Equity said:

As we face into what will most likely be a record year for film production across the island of Ireland, we must strive to ensure that those hard fought for agreements gained by our comrades in Northern Ireland , Scotland , Wales and England are not undermined by the undervaluing of the rights of our members. The global hunger for content for an already insatiable international distribution network has seen an assault on the rights of performers with regard to their participation in the financial success of productions globally. We must ensure that where public funds are made available to international media conglomerates through local film companies that the performance and property rights of all performers are valued equally. As a performer and a union activist, I have witnessed what can happen internationally when local producers demand that we, as performers, subsidise their version of the audiovisual industry by accepting terms and conditions that deny, or through abuse of dominance, minimise the value of our right to residual payments for the ongoing exploitation of our recorded work.

We as performers, by virtue of legislation, have a 50 year stake-holding in the revenue streams created from the success, and excellence, of our work. How that is extracted and made payable to our members requires a very specific form of negotiation that is informed by not just the working time act but also copyright and contract law. 

The pressure to minimise the rights of performers across every aspect of their employment and the assignment of their rights is enormous. The need to control ownership of all intellectual property, including that of the performer, is the current great ‘land grab’ of our industry. A union that represents performers must have an insight into, not just of what happens at the point of production, but also how the distribution system works and how we extract the maximum benefit from the revenue streams created. It is a complex challenge.

But this is not only about our livelihoods. It is also about the importance of strong unions working together to ensure that we remain safe in our work environment. Sadly, the headlines of the last few days demonstrate what can happen in the rush to create content as cheaply as possible. It is unthinkable that the telling of a story should cut short the ultimate story of a human life. 

All unions are stronger when they stand together to protect the rights of their members, so on behalf of the members of Irish Equity and their executive we endorse the motion of our sister union and call on Congress to support our efforts to end the inequity that currently exists within the audiovisual industry on this island. We are proud to second the motion.”