The sacking of 16 actors from SABC 1 soapie, Generations, has become a political issue with everyone from sports minister Fikile Mbalula to the ANC Youth League stepping into the fray. Arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa has indicated he’s willing to help resolve the impasse, while others have called for the labour minister and the communications minister to get involved.
“We are deeply concerned about these developments and hope that SABC management, the production company and worker representatives will work together to reach a speedy resolution to this matter,” Mthethwa said. The ANC Youth League was less circumspect, saying that because actors are categorised as freelancers, they don’t receive benefits such as housing, pension, and medical aid, and that this was “tantamount to labour broking”.
The principal cast of 16 are demanding an increase from R16 000 a week to R30 000 a week to “bring them [salaries] in line with industry standards and norms”. They also want royalties and syndication fees for episodes broadcast in other countries, and three-year contracts.
Are their demands unreasonable and not on a par with other similar shows? Adrian Galley, vice chair of the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) and spokesman for the organisation, says while SAGA doesn’t have access to all the relevant facts, as the guild was not included as an interested party, it stands in solidarity with colleagues who have valid grievances.
Galley says SAGA has been negotiating with the SABC and the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) to “include a transparent process for calculating actors’ compensation where programmes are sold to other territories, to which the broadcaster has agreed, and a standardised schedule of minimum rates which, it is proposed, will be renegotiated every three years”.
“Most contracts being bandied about in the industry are veritable ‘patchwork quilts’ cut ‘n’ pasted from previous legislative regimes and they leak like sieves,” Galley told The Media Online.
“The SA Guild of Actors publishes a scale of recommended minimum rates (starting points for negotiation) which both agents and producers find useful when budgeting,” he says.
“There are three categories depending on seniority and experience: junior actor (newbie, just starting out) R20 000 per month; intermediate actor (relatively experienced) R25 000 per month; and senior actor (a seasoned professional who has been around the block) R35 000 per month.”
Galley explained that various factors for negotiation come into play within these guidelines such as the prominence of the role, whether the character is featured in or expected to carry an A, B or C storyline and, of course, length of service.
“As you may know, ‘soap operas’ generally consist of weaving parallel narratives, each driven by a character, and each of which periodically rises or falls in prominence. Each ‘soap’ offers a scale of rates based on audience research figures, and these differ quite significantly across the board,” he says.
Galley gave us an indication based on specifics that have been shared with by various agents. These are verified specific salaries, he says.
A newcomer on 7de Laan – R22 000 per month
A newcomer on Isibaya – R26 000 per month
An intermediate actor on Binnelanders – R27 500 per month
An intermediate actor on Isidingo – R28 000 per month
An intermediate actor on Generations – R40 000 per month
An experienced actor in a support role on Isibaya – R30 000 per month
An experienced actor on Isidingo – R40 000 per month
An experienced actor on Generations – R60 000 per month
“Generations actors are on weekly contracts, and the figure being spoken about is a median R16 000 per week, which they are demanding is increased to R30 000 per week,” he says. Due to the show’s undoubtedly big audience numbers, and its ability to pull in advertising, it’s not surprising that Generations actors earn in the highest quadrant.
Galley says the different broadcasters offer different rates. “An agent suggested that e.tv are surprisingly generous with an experienced actors on Scandal, earning R60 000 per month and an intermediate actor driving an A storyline on Rhythm City getting the same (R60 000 per month). An inexperienced actor on Rhythm City is earning R20 000 per month,” he says.
Muvhango offers its main cast between R40 000 and R60 000 per month. Galley says M-Net’s Mzansi channels offers rates well below SAGA’s suggested minimums, as does kykNET’s Villa Rosa.
Galley says the term ‘royalties’ is exclusively related to intellectual property, so it is being “misapplied in this case” as actors have no claim to ownership of the intellectual property. “What we are talking about is ‘residuals’ or ‘repeat broadcasts’ or a fee based on foreign sales”.
“The SABC has already agreed to repeat broadcast fees and fees based on foreign sales and does pay them. However they have agreed to sit down with the Guild to devise a transparent process for calculating those fees,” he says.
Galley said it was important to note that as independent contractors, actors cannot claim protection under labour law and should not be misled by advice to the contrary. “It must be stressed that there are substantive benefits to be had as independent contractors and actors need to be better informed in order to make the most of these,” he says.
“All actors in South Africa are freelance and on specific fixed term contracts which are by and large governed by the law of contract and not labour law,” says Galley.
How, then, do actors fight for their rights? “Historically, the Performing Arts Councils employed permanent companies of actors, and so a succession of unions was able to register in the name of representing those actors: SAFTU and its successor, PAWE which has now, with the musicians’ union, morphed into CWUSA (the Cosatu affiliated Creative Workers Union of SA).
“CWUSA now, legitimately speaks on behalf of ‘employees’ in the creative industries, those who have full-time jobs and fall under the protection of the Labour Relations Act (generally, the likes of stage hands at the various theatre complexes),” he explains.
Galley says the South African Guild of Actors was established as an “alternative structure that serves the function of a union, but which is dedicated to addressing disputes from a contractual law perspective, rather than the labour law perspective. “Importantly,” he says, “SAGA is politically non-aligned”.
Social media has been riven with ideas on how to “kill off” the cast, with someone even suggesting an Ebola outbreak. But what is the situation?
“As with most contracts there are termination clauses and notice periods, which would need to be obeyed,” says Galley. “They are usually not unreasonable, but producers would consider them highly necessary in light of the fluid demands of the medium. Storylines are plotted months in advance and core characters would never be written out willy-nilly. This is possibly one of the sticking points in the actors’ demands for a three-year contract,” he says.
In the meantime, the Generations cast has thanked South Africans for their “outpouring of support”, saying they are “heartened by the public’s empathy and support of their situation”.
“Embarking on this action was a difficult decision for all of us, but in light of the events that transpired, we really didn’t see any other option available to us,” they said. “We have always been clear that we wanted an open dialogue, but sadly, this hasn’t been forthcoming. It is extremely encouraging, therefore, to receive such an outpouring of support from our fans, fellow workers and various industry and political organisations.”
The SABC and production company MMSV is holding a press conference on Friday to “set the record straight around issues pertaining to SABC 1 soap drama Generations.”
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