Poor working conditions in factual TV "no surprise"

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A recent survey carried out by BECTU, the UK's media and entertainment trade union, has revealed a bleak picture of working in factual television today. Longer hours, budget constraints and too little rest time make up the top concerns for people working in the sector.

Martin Spence, BECTU assistant general secretary, told The Knowledge this news came as “no surprise”, and the issue of poor working conditions has been “bubbling away for some time”.

The survey, part of the union’s Say No to Exploitation in TV campaign, reveals that working in excess of 11 hours a day is the main concern, contributing to 76.6% of the votes, with budget constraints following closely behind.

BECTU had been getting regular approaches about these concerns from people working in production – mainly researchers, APs and production managers. Staff in the technical grades, such as camera departments, have also approached the union with their concerns.

With the blame generally being pointed at production companies, Spence stressed that not all production companies are at fault: “We’re not saying everyone is rogue and driving people into an early grave.” In fact, Tiger Aspect, Endemol and Betty were just some of the production companies that received positive mentions in the survey.

Working long hours in production is a given, especially in film and factual TV, and if you’re working on a documentary and expect to clock off at 5pm each day you can forget it. An hour lunch? You’ll be lucky to even finish your sandwich on the go.

What isn’t often addressed, however, is some of the more pressing issues that arise from working in the sector, such as rates of pay and short staffing. More worryingly, bullying was an issue for some respondents of the survey, with no less than 22.8% citing it as a major concern.

BECTU will be taking these issues of the survey further. Taking place on Monday 18 March, the Blood, Sweat & TV debate will be led by The Writers Producers & Directors branch of the union and will address these working conditions. Members and non-members will also be welcome at the event, and the full speaker line up will be revealed soon.

Further details will be announced via our news page and BECTU’s website.

What do you think about the current working conditions in factual TV? We’d love to hear about your experiences via our Facebook page.