Film and TV workers to be protected under employment law 

Proposed changes to the law, however, could impact the gig economy.

The Department of Employment and Labour is urging stakeholders in the industry to make inputs on the Basic Conditions of Employment Act notice, which was issued with the intention of deeming persons in the film and television industry as employees for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

The film and TV industry is notorious for exploiting workers because of the sheer nature of the work they do. When an actor is working on a production, he or she is not employed, but is rather ‘contracted’. In that sense, they are considered to be ‘Independent Contractors’ who are self-employed.

The aforementioned Department of Labour’s notice, titled ‘Intention to Deem Persons in the Film and Television Industry as Employees for Purposes of Some Parts of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and Labour Relations Act', was published in the Government Gazette. It seeks to afford actors and crew members the same rights as other workers, including sick leave, maternity leave, severance pay, proof of incapacity and compensation claims for occupational accidents/diseases.

Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi issued the notice shortly after actress Vatiswa Ndara, in an open letter to Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, painted a sordid state of affairs in the industry.  In the letter, Ndara urged that the government take steps to protect industry practitioners from exploitation and underpayment

“Interested stakeholders will have 60 days to make inputs. The Government Gazette was published on 11 December 2019,” the department said in the notice. 

One of the factors that the department will have to consider before implementing the suggested changes is the impact they will have on all other contract workers. Freelancers from all manner of sectors are also able to claim that they too are vulnerable to exploitation due to the nature of their work and may thus also be entitled to be given similar rights proposed for workers in the film and TV industries.