The Picture is Yours Underpaid cast and crew

Young media workers are forced to accept a pittance for long hours in the hope of landing a permanent job. It is our industry’s dirty little secret. The eager young faces that flit about on every production set, making sure the scripts are photocopied and the coffees are made and the taxis are booked. Always among the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night, desperate to make an impression and secure that all-important step on the first slippery rung of the industry ladder. Many are so determined to forge a career in the glamorous world of television that they are prepared to work for little or nothing to achieve it.

The company bosses may be making millions by selling up or floating their business on the stock exchange, but their success is often buttressed by those starry-eyed graduates who fight for prized work placements as runners, cable-bashers and researchers. However, it's so undervalued and underrated even that over 90 per cent of runners get paid £3,000 below the minimum wage a year. There's also an over 90 per cent chance that those runners are working 10-12 hours a day and 6 days a week.

The reason why the industry gets away with this is the demand for running jobs. There're countless universities who have drilled the importance of running and how pivotal a role it plays in entering the industry, that this exploitation is viewed as given. In fact, it's not even viewed as exploitation. Students are conditioned to believe this is what they deserve. That rate is the penalty for ambition. There is no other way to break into the industry.

Many respondents said pay was the worst thing about being a runner and they despaired at the short-term nature of media contracts. Several also noted being passed over for promotion, complaining about a lack of job opportunities and observing nepotism in recruiting decisions.

This problem doesn’t just apply to runners or interns on productions.  For instance, performers on Trevor Nunn’s critically acclaimed production of Porgy and Bess claim they have been underpaid by thousands of pounds over the course of the show’s West End run. Swings on the production, which would normally be expected to cover ensemble roles, say they have been regularly required to take on featured parts without being paid the same rate as understudies. Equity is calling for an across-the-board minimum rate of £350 per week for actors working in non-West End commercial, subsidised repertory and independent theatres, in what is likely to be regarded by smaller managements as a huge increase.

However, changes are happening throughout the independent sector regarding unpaid or underpaid work for cast and crew. For instance, BECTU (the film and TV technicians union) won a ‘landmark’ case which seemed to imply that Indie film makers may be exposed to prosecution iF they do not pay the National Minimum Wage (NMW). Even if the crew members who got involved know and agree that there would be low or no pay, the producers could still be prosecuted under this law.