BECTU calls out damage to health caused by long hours in film and TV

4 June 2018

BECTU is continuing to challenge the ill-health effects of long hours working in film and TV.

Long hours culture is the norm

It is widely accepted that a long hours culture causes real health problems, yet days of 10 or 11 working hours – often with many hours of overtime added – are the norm in many parts of the film and TV industries, says BECTU.

Work in film and TV is hurting

BECTU’s 2017 Eyes Half Shut survey and report showed a majority of respondents worked more than their standard contractual hours either every shift or for a majority of shifts. The report went further showing:

  • some crew members working days as long as 21 hours;
  • in post-production and VFX, shifts longer than 24 hours were not unknown;
  • the widespread expectation that crew ‘opt out’ of the EU Working Time Directive.

Studies have shown overwork, and the resulting stress, can lead to impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease. Only 1-3% of the population can sleep five or six hours a night without suffering some performance drop-off. The risks of suffering a stroke and developing heart disease is significantly higher among people who are regularly working long hours.

Download our new fact sheet

An Australian study of the film industry found 14% of producers, editors and directors and 21% of technicians and operatives had experienced moderate or severe depression compared with 3% of the general population.

The #EyesHalfShut campaign highlights the dangers to health that UK film and TV workers face every day in an industry that is beset with unnecessary long-hours working. BECTU's petition calling for an industry-wide commission to reduce long-hours working has already attracted over 6,000 signatures.

Sign the petition here

Union action on hours 

BECTU has successfully negotiated away the buy-out (unlimited unpaid overtime) in most UK TV Drama and in Major Motion Pictures. The union’s Construction Agreement has cut the standard freelance week from 55 hours to 37.5. These new agreements represent important steps to giving members more control over their working hours in some quarters, however the expectation that crews will work excessive hours remains.  

Caroline Hemmington, negotiations officer, said:

“We aim to help our members negotiate working hours that don’t damage their health or even their lives. BECTU has already made significant improvements through our negotiations and we will continue this work.”

“There is an expectation for people to work extremely long hours in the film and TV industry. Because these industries are crewed by freelancers, many feel they have no option but to work long hours or risk future employment opportunities. We understand the reasons that the film industry relies on long days, but our members overwhelmingly believe that the industry could do a lot more to manage itself better and improve the work-life balance of crew – without damaging the productivity of the industry.”

Focus on first aid

The union is spending the next seven days extensively promoting the need for more first aid skills so that members can recognise the signs of illnesses such as stroke or understand the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The campaign will highlight other partial responses to the damaging effect of long hours in the coming weeks.

Resources to boost your knowledge of first aid

Use these resources to spread awareness of how to administer CPR and to spot the signs of a stroke. The union runs regular first aid courses too.

(Thanks to the British Heart Foundation and the UK Health Department for several of these resources; use the download button on this page too to access our latest flyer and more campaign information).

BECTU members speak out

Speaking on condition of anonymity BECTU members offered the following observations on long hours:

“In the UK I would work regular 90-100 hour weeks on some series and seven days solid, with some wrap times at 3am and call times at 6am "to get it done". I got so exhausted on my last production I ended up in hospital. I love working in TV but we need to take our lives back too.” Mike W

“Long hours coupled with no breaks just results in tired, less effective workers. It impacts hugely on family life, and has a huge impact on mental health.” Ellie W

“I work 20 hour days, sunrise to sunset. I regularly experience hallucinations and memory loss from lack of sleep …” Sarah

“Six months ago I left the industry for exactly this reason. Long hours, an expectation to commute several hours each day and no compassion. My mental and physical health has improved drastically, I now have a work life balance and can plan for the future.” Joseph S

Support the campaign

Help us to get the word out so as many people as possible sign the petition – more signatures means more power.

Social media-friendly graphics have been produced to support the message about the damage long-hours working causes to health, these will be posted to the campaign page shortly.

Download our new fact sheet

A campaign pack has been produced containing

Members are urged to contact Marcelle Davis (mdavis@bectu.org.uk) for supplies. 

Visit the #EyesHalfShut campaign pages.

Query about this article? Contact us.

Updated Thursday 7 June 2018.

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