UK entertainment union calls for developers to set their own agenda for unionisation

BECTU: Studios have a ‘duty of care’ to staff

UK media and entertainment union BECTU has said that it could tackle the ‘excessive hours of work culture’ in the games industry if more developers were to join.

Responding to Develop’s Global Quality of Life Survey, the results of which were published in issue 94, BECTU’s Arts & Entertainment Division supervisor Willy Donaghy said that our findings, which found that 98 per cent of game developers do not receive paid ovetime, were in line with the organisation’s investigations.

But he warned that employers need to be reminded that they have an ‘overriding duty of care to staff’: “I doubt that many employers – if any at all – have undertaken a risk assessment on the hours of work of their staff.

“It’s interesting that there is a relatively high level of pension and private health care provision, although a cynic would say that the health care provision is needed because the excessive hours of work will inevitably lead to illness.”

Many workers within the development industry are unaware that there is even a trade union that covers them, and more still wonder how game developers fit into an organisation more traditionally focused on stage and screen.

Donaghy admits that the union doesn’t have many game developer members – “There’s no history of trade union organisation in the games industry to which workers can refer to and identify with, which is a difficulty,” he said. But he is keen to point out that much can be done for those thinking of joining.

“BECTU is proud of its achievements over the years, and I’m confident that we could address the excessive hours of work culture in the games industry and the problems that this brings to workplaces and home life. However, it is BECTU policy that the members identify the issues that they want addressed rather than ‘the union’ telling them the issues to be addressed – whether that is to do with pay and conditions, health and safety, or training.”

One of the common arguments used against the unionisation is that applying a rigid structure to a process as ‘organic’ as game development will restrict the creativity of workers, resulting in worse products. We put this to Donaghy, and he pointed out that the union’s experience in other sectors proves that wouldn’t be the case.

“BECTU traditionally organises within theatre and live events, film and television: these are UK sectors that are recognised and applauded around the world for creativity and innovation. Our record speaks for itself in these industries, and union recognition has helped rather than hindered this creativity and innovation.”

Another retort often cited by studio heads is that making overtime official just incentivises staff to not work as hard during the day. “Our experience is the opposite,” said Donaghy when presented with this. “Rules on overtime tend to encourage productivity rather than create a barrier. Workers do not want to work over their basic wage to get a decent rate of pay.”

Whether or not the development industry should unionise is a topic that many disagree on – especially with international competition meaning that the UK is already less favourable than other countries when it comes to costs. Regardless of the means, however, very few would disagree that the industry still has far to go on quality of life issues.

Would unions help or hinder the UK’s development industry and workforce? Let us know your thoughts below or at

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