Entertainment & Arts

Fringe actors lose minimum wage case

A group of actors have lost an employment tribunal case after claiming they should be paid the minimum wage for appearing in a fringe theatre play.

The five performers starred in David Edgar's Pentecost in an 80-seat east London church in 2012.

They originally won their case at a tribunal the following year.

But the play's producer and director Gavin McAlinden appealed, and the East London Employment Tribunal has now found in his favour.

The actors were part of a 26-strong cast who were told they would share the play's profits. But they were also told it was a low-budget production and it ended up making no profit.

Despite making no money, the play, which was performed at St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch, was nominated for two Off West-End Awards in 2012.

'Very low wages'

The tribunal centred on whether the actors could be classed as "workers" under law - and therefore entitled to the minimum wage. But the judge decided they should be regarded as self-employed professionals.

The performers were backed by acting union Equity. Assistant general secretary Martin Brown said: "We're very disappointed. We believed that these members were workers, and that's what was determined in the initial employment tribunal.

"This does not mean that our campaign to persuade all operators on the fringe to operate professionally and pay decent wages comes to an end.

"Young aspiring performers have to go through fairly expensive training. And then they have to survive for several years scraping around on very low wages, and sometimes no wages at all. If that continues, then fantastic talent is going to be lost."

The ruling would not have implications beyond profit-share productions, Mr Brown said.

'Tough industry'

Mr McAlinden said he did not make any money from the show, but that it was "a really worthwhile project".

"I am very pleased with the judgement, which vindicates the position that I have held all along," he said. "Acting is a very tough industry and I believe actors should have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' to profit share productions.

"Most profit share producers are completely devoted to the artistic process, work very hard and invest - and often lose - their own money."

Lawyer Paul Jennings, who represented Mr McAlinden, said profit-sharing, "in its true sense, does not involve exploitation".

He said: "Requiring a director to pay the minimum wage in circumstances where there is no independent funding and the participants have agreed in advance to a profit share arrangement runs the risk of stifling fringe theatre and other collaborative artistic projects."

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