Young Workers challenging unfair practices

Young Workers challenging unfair practices


GSA Student Association invited the Scottish Artists Union and STUC's Better Than Zero campaign to speak to graduates...


In June, Janie Nicoll visual artist, activist and Scottish Artists Union Exec member joined a panel to discuss unfair work practices in our sector. Hosted by our Finance & Projects Manager, Gordon Dickson we heard from two young trade union activists from STUC's Better Than Zero campaign. The talk was part of Glasgow Schoool of Art Student Association's Dress Rehearsal graduate events.

GSA Panel

The Scottish Artists Union, supported by the STUC's Union Modernisation Fund will soon be launching a Fair Work contract template for its members in order to tackle unfair work rates, terms & conditions. Our members tell us that 80% of paid work is not covered by any contract or formal agreement, so we know the huge impact that will have for visual artists, applied artists and makers lving and working in Scotland.

Eilis O'Keefe and Martyn Forbes from Better Than Zero have direct experience of what is required to organise to challenge unfair work practices. There insight, passion and determination was an inspiration to us all, here Martyn goes in to further details how his union organising expereince has given him the confidence and skills to confront injustice and inequality in the workplace.

Martyn writes: From my experience, I think one of the main problems that creatives faces when entering the world of work, and often lack of work, is learning to cope on your own. After years of studies with your friends, peers and tutors - with a support network - it can be challenging to suddenly fend for yourself, often pitting yourself against your friends as you fight for work and recognition.

It can also be extremely demoralising when you are faced with rejection, knock-backs or continual unpaid work for your art. Many creatives may go years without getting proper payment for the creative work as often when you are starting out you are viewed as a hobbyist; less worthy of being paid than those who are more established in the industry. Without a support network around you it can be all too easy to second guess yourself, beat yourself up and think twice about pursuing a career in the creative industry.

Better Than Zero

I work in hospitality, an industry with flexible hours that suited myself pursuing acting work, for which I trained. Given the state of the creative industry; lack of funding, opportunities and centralisation of projects - which I particularly felt in Scotland; with so many having to move down south to find work - most creatives will have to find work elsewhere to pay the bills and fund their art. This leaves us vulnerable to precarious work. We may see the initial appeal of zero hour contracts or agree to anything to secure a job.

Afterall, it's only temporary isn't it? This is just a side job to tide me over until my exhibition, my showcase, my theatre show, my short film, my real job. Sadly though, these temporary jobs can end up being your full time job and you need to make sure you are not being taking advantage of by your employer. Workplace problems can exacerbate stress, anxiety and can lead to depression; when you are trying to battle to make a living in the arts while also dealing with problems at your non-creative job.

I got involved with Better Than Zero and Unite to try and improve conditions for hospitality workers as it is a sector which is rife with precarious practices. I have spoken to colleagues and other hospitality staff, encouraging them to get together. Have a meeting after work, discuss the problems you are all facing no matter how big or small, don't just moan about it on shift and not do anything about it. It is only when we work together that we truly make a difference. Come together and join a union. If you are the only one challenging your employer it can often lead to you being viewed as the bad apple. But if you all come together as a united front, a unionised front, your employer has to take your views seriously and you will have more protections. 

I used to believe that a trade union was some sort of third party. Some organisation that I would contact whenever I had a problem and they would swoop in and save the day. This is not the reality. Of course they are there to support their members, not matter what sector. The can help, advise and represent you in grievances and disciplinaries etc. But a trade union is really a collective of workers. It is your peers, your friends, people facing the same problems and struggles you are facing. A network to support one another, challenge employers together and protect each others rights. You are the trade union.

From getting involved with Better Than Zero and the Unite Hospitality branch I have seen firsthand the benefits of being part of a trade union. I have seen the wins that have been fought for by workers coming together and campaigning together. My focus right now is mental health, something that is often ignored throughout the service and hospitality sector.

I would encourage anyone to join a trade union and work together to tackle your problems; no matter how big or small. Whether it's demanding that you should be paid properly for your art, making sure you get a contract, or getting the hours that you are actually contracted for; whatever it is, you are not alone in these problems. Talk to one another, support eachother, build a network. Together your voice cannot be ignored.

If you are not a member already, you can join the Scottish Artists Union today for just £5 per month.


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