Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Questions (28)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

28. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on the increased pressure placed on persons in the performing arts and screen industry in relation to pay, conditions and general employment rights; her further views on the cultural value of the industries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24080/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Culture)

I wish to ask the Minister her views on the increased pressure that is placed on persons in the performing arts and screen industry regarding pay and conditions and general employment rights, and her further views on the cultural value of those industries.

I am acutely aware of the decades-long difficulties faced by those who wish to engage in artistic pursuits, be it on a global stage or domestically. The Government is committed to increasing funding for the arts. In the past two years, I have secured a significant increase in funding for artists, primarily through the Arts Council, which the Deputy will be aware has experienced an increase of 15% in its annual funding since 2017 to €75 million in 2019. In addition, the Government has allocated €1.2 billion in capital funding for culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht over the ten years to 2027 as part of the national development plan. That includes €200 million for the Audiovisual Action Plan, which sets out the Government's commitment to investing in the screen industry.

In tandem with securing additional funding, my Department has also worked to address conditions and employment rights in the performing arts and screen industry in conjunction with the relevant agencies under its remit. For example, the Arts Council, as part of its assessment of applications for funding now requires details of an organisation's policy on the remuneration of artists in an effort to ensure that organisations in receipt of Arts Council funding offer fair and equitable remuneration to artists.

Regarding the screen industry, which we recently discussed, the film regulations require all applicants for section 481 tax credit to include with their applications a signed undertaking in respect of quality employment, which requires both the producer company and the qualifying company to comply with all obligations in the field of environmental, social and employment law. The producer company and the qualifying company must be responsible for compliance with all statutory requirements of an employer and have in place written policies and procedures on grievances, discipline and dignity at work. The companies are also required to provide details of any Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, decisions aligned with confirmation that any findings against the companies have been followed or an explanation where the finding has not been followed. That is now a key requirement in the application process. Screen Ireland also has similar requirements for companies in receipt of its funding.

We all acknowledge the importance of arts and culture. My question is how we show that in reality. I am not just talking about increased funding to the Arts Council; I am talking about the precarious nature of the work, the lack of stability, the short-term contracts and how very difficult it is for the majority working in the arts area to make a living. I wish to stray into the area of social protection. There is a need for a social welfare payment for those involved in the arts industry when they are out of work. We know there is jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit. Given the questions that are being asked of artists and actors to avail of either scheme, the system does not seem to take into account the sporadic nature of the work. The circumstances of professional actors are unique and they do not suit the current JobPath programme.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has introduced a pilot scheme for the arts, which was welcomed by the National Campaign for the Arts, but it is limited to those who are self-employed artists in just two specific communities, that is, literature and visual art, and the majority of working artists do not have access to that. Does the Minister communicate with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the issue because it is directly related to people who are working in the arts and culture area?

The Deputy is correct that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and my Department are running a pilot project. We are currently engaged in positive discussions to amend the system to encompass some of the people delineated by the Deputy. However, it is a work in progress, which I hope to expedite as soon as possible.

Employees in every industry and sector are entitled to all existing legal protections of employment law and the performing arts and film industries are not exempt. There can be a perception that they are, but they are covered under the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018, which was signed into law by the President in December. It will also improve the situation of insecurity and unpredictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts, which the Deputy mentioned, and those working variable hours.

What I have heard from the actors whom I have met is that when they have to engage with the social protection system for a particular payment, the questions they are asked bear no reality to the facts of the kind of work they do and the precarious nature of the work.

Going back to the other aspect of this question, the debate we had before the recess followed a briefing in the audiovisual room from those who have been working in the film industry. The issues were protection for workers and health and safety complaints procedures, among others. The reality of what we heard that day was compelling, including passionate stories from people who have been working in the industry for many years. They say that they have been blacklisted because of issues they raised and they have not been able to secure work. Everybody in the audiovisual room agreed with the need to engage in some type of forum, yet when the Minister made her speech on this, she said that she felt it was not possible to have a collaborative approach now. The current situation is intolerable for many of those who have been working in the industry for a long time. They are now out of work and their skill set is being lost. Will the Minister consider supporting a forum?

Recent changes to section 481 address bullying and other such issues. From 28 March, all applicants for section 481 funding, including producer companies and the qualifying companies, are required to sign an undertaking that they have in place written policies and procedures on grievances, discipline and dignity at work, which includes harassment, bullying and equal opportunity. That means employers now have an obligation to provide workers on their productions with a workplace that is free of harassment, bullying and intimidation. The obligation includes ensuring that workers are not harassed, bullied or intimidated by other workers. If the producer companies or the qualifying companies cannot provide workers with a proper workplace environment they will not be able to obtain section 481 tax relief.

We discussed the film forum at length on the previous occasion. It is something I am concerned about. I have instructed my officials to examine a way of mediating this dispute. I know that issues arose from the presentation in the audiovisual room, even among the people in the room itself. There is evidently a deep difference in the views and feelings of those involved. If we seek to try to deliberate on an alternative route, we may be able to work something out.