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‘We need help now’: Calls for support for freelancers

As self-employed crew in some European countries welcome much-needed government aid, others are still left out in the cold

By Jon Chapple on 20 Mar 2020

bokeh shot of black audio mixer

Industry bodies representing touring crew, production staff and other live events freelancers have called for immediate financial support for the sector, amid widespread loss of work and wages caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In the UK, recent research by Bectu (the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union), which represents more than 40,000 entertainment and media industry members, found nearly three quarters (71%) of freelancers working in the creative industries are afraid they won’t be able to pay their bills because of work lost due to coronavirus.

A survey of 5,600 people (which closed on Monday 16 March, before the British government advised against visiting entertainment venues while not enforcing their closure, in a move that attracted widespread criticism) additionally found that nearly 3,000 people (46%) had already lost money as a result of the virus, with 456 (15%) down more than £5,000.

“We have since had another update from the chancellor but still nothing for freelancers, the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts,” comments Bectu head Philippa Childs. “These people have literally seen their income stream disappear in the space of a few days. They pay their taxes without fail, contribute to a thriving sector of the economy and don’t have the structure of an employer.”

In Germany, VPLT (the Association for Media and Event Technology) estimates that its members – mainly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – will have lost a collective €210 million in sales up to 30 June 2020, with that figure increasing to €480m through the end of the year.  Cancelled investments, meanwhile, total €32.6m through 31 December.

Belgium’s Febelux, which represents the conference and trade fair sector, says total loss to event suppliers in Belgium and Luxembourg due to Covid-19 will total €150m in the same period. For freelancers, “temporary unemployment can provide relief for some time, but not for long,” says Febelux chairman Emile De Cartier.

“What people don’t understand is that we need the money now”

When IQ spoke to VPLT’s commerce and international affairs spokesman, VPLT Randell Greenlee, yesterday (19 March) morning, he explained how German live industry freelancers, of which he estimates there are around a quarter of a million, were facing a financial “catastrophe” due to lost earnings.

“What people don’t understand is that we need help, we need the money now,” Greenlee said. “Not in a month, not in two months – we need it next week.”

“We’re a really sexy industry in some ways, but when it comes to asking for money it’s often a different story,” he added. “We’re very good at doing an awful lot with very people. People are compelled to work as much as they can to get the show on, and that can be difficult to explain [to governments].”

In Bavaria, he said, the state government is “already giving cash to small companies [and sole traders] to provide them with liquidity”, with other states thinking about introducing similar schemes. “That’s money that’s not going to come back but it will prevent people from being out on the street.”

Later the same day, German media reported the federal government is planning a €40 billion aid package for the self-employed, taking the form of €10bn worth of direct grants and €30bn in low-interest government-backed loans.

The programme would mark a change of approach for the German government, which would need to borrow to fund the initiative after years of running a budget surplus, reports the Spiegel. Further details of the fund are expected in the coming days.

In France, sole traders are eligible to receive a lump sum of €1,500

Government support is available in France, too, according to Synpase (the National Union of Providers of Audiovisual Services for the Stage and Events), with sole traders or businesses turning over less than €1m a year – or those who have suffered a drop in revenues of at least 70% due to Covid-19 – eligible to receive a lump sum of €1,500.

This indemnity will be financed by a ‘solidarity fund’ of €2bn a month, renewed monthly until the end of the crisis. Requests for funding should be made to the ministry of the economy (DGFiP), with minister Bruno Le Maire promising the system will be “simple and quick”.

In Belgium, the associations’ equivalent, the Belgian Event Supplier Association (BESA), has sent a letter to Nathalie Muylle, Belgian minister for employment, the economy and consumer affairs, and her counterparts in Wallonia, Willy Borsus, and Flanders, Hilde Crevits, asking for “concrete support” for its membership, which includes a substantial number of freelancers.

In partnership with sister associations ACC, Becas and Febelux, BESA has created a coronavirus ‘roadmap’ to update its members on the latest developments, including eight actions they say the Belgian government can take to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis.

These measures include the creation of an emergency fund, interest-free loans for businesses, an 80% discount on income tax, and an extension of the aid already provided to the catering sector (up to €4,000 for businesses which have had to close completely) to the live events industry.

While those in Britain wait for similar good news for freelancers, the trade association for the UK live event production industry, the Production Services Association (PSA), is stepping up: The organisation has created a continuously updated list of temporary work vacancies to support the sector’s “under-employed workforce”.

“Freelancers also have families to feed”

In an email to members and supporters, the PSA explains: “[We’ve] put together a simple page where we’re sharing any hints, tips, articles or links about temporary positions. It’s mainly about the food supply chain, from farm to shelf. Pick, lift, shift, stack, sell. Altogether, there are probably enough jobs for every freelancer in live events. If we got affected first, we should apply first.”

Emphasising that the current crisis “isn’t quite retirement; it’s a temporary removal of our purpose”, the association urges workers to “check yourself, take a moment, make sure you’re alright, then refocus on what you can do, what you can have an effect on. We’re protecting ourselves from a virus; we should also be protecting ourselves from a loss of purpose.”

Bectu, meanwhile, says it’s keeping up pressure on the British government to extend its support for business to freelance and casual workers. “The government can’t ignore them any longer,” says Childs. “Just like those who are employed and receive salaries, freelancers also have families to feed and must pay the bills to keep a roof over their heads.”

“The government must make sure any further protections put in place cover the entire economy’s workforce.”

 


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