The big conversation right now in the industry concerns the current SAG AFTRA industrial action in the U.S. The implications of this action clearly impacts international markets, including the UK. Equity
To understand how the U.K. is responding, we recommend that you turn to the UK actors' Union, Equity. SAG AFTRA is Equity’s sister Union, representing performers in the U.S. and recently released their Solidarity Statement & Advice Regarding the SAG-AFTRA Industrial Action 2023: ‘Industrial relations legislation in the United Kingdom is draconian, and often viewed as the most restrictive in the Western world. The convoluted and pernicious hurdles faced by all unions in the United Kingdom are a national disgrace and need urgent reform. The regrettable consequence of this framework is that what artists working in the United Kingdom – whether SAG-AFTRA and/or Equity members (or both) – can do, may be different from their comrades in the United States and other parts of the world.’
Current state of play
However, whilst the strike is considered lawful action in for U.S. Union actors, any such similar action in the UK for Equity members has been deemed unlawful:
‘You will see that the primary legal problem is this: We have been advised by SAG-AFTRA that its strike is lawful according to United States law but we have been advised by our UK lawyers that it is not lawful under United Kingdom law. Consequently, a performer joining the strike (or refusing to cross a picket line) in the UK will have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or the engager. Likewise, if Equity encourages anyone to join the strike or not cross a picket line, Equity itself will be acting unlawfully and hence liable for damages or an injunction.’
To this end, Equity has set out advice for members on the strike action, based on the most common ways in which they are engaged. This advice can be found in the detailed FAQs on their website.
What does this mean for UK voice actors?
NAVA has put together a useful guide to help voice actors understand what types of work fall under the strike & which jobs they may still work on. Currently, the U.S. strike action will impact the following areas: animated films, looping, ADR & voice matching for TV & film, trailers or narration on a feature film. It is not currently thought to have a direct impact on those voice actors working on commercials, video games, dubbing, audiobooks, non-broadcast corporate narration & explainers, phone systems, cable narration, new media animation, promos & podcasts.
However, even if most of our work can currently take place, it does not mean that this action will not have an impact further down the line. BAFTA-winning voice actor, Cissy Jones, rightfully points out that the issues up for debate affect all areas of the industry, if we are to protect our future profession.
So what are these other areas that are currently affected in the UK VO industry? We spoke to Liam Budd, Industrial Official for Audio and New Media and part of the Equity Audio Committee for his take. Liam said:
‘Equity stands in full solidarity behind our sister union in their claim, and the action their Board have agreed to take. SAG-AFTRA has our total solidarity in this fight.
Like SAG-AFTRA, Equity is facing head-on existential questions regarding the transformative impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the landscape for entertainment work. Whilst AI can be used ethically and responsibly when it is implemented in collaboration with Audio Artists and their trade union Equity, we are grappling with a range of issues. This includes the real and growing threat of job displacement, intellectual property infringement that is taking place on an industrial scale, and inequitable contracts with low rates of pay. A key priority for the union is to empower Audio Artists to protect their rights, which is why we recently launched our AI toolkit. As we move forward with the innovation, we want to work constructively with the audio industry to ensure that human creativity is protected and the licensing framework for engaging voiceovers for performance cloning work is built around the principle of active consent, limited usage, and fair remuneration.’
It’s clear the team at Equity are working hard on this, on behalf of all of us. If you are not yet a member of Equity, our advice is to join the Union as soon as you can, so your voice can be counted and heard.
In the midst of change
One thing is for sure - the industrial action we’re seeing in America will surely ripple down to all those in the global creative industries, including VO. The creep of technology, AI and global streaming is upon us. Actors cannot afford to eat on free gigs, low pay and unfair working conditions. It is now up to each and every one of us to do our bit to fight for a better future.
As Equity’s motto says:
‘To all artists good work. To all workers good art. To all people: Equity.’
Further Information & links:
Find out more about the SAG AFTRA industrial strike action here: https://www.equity.org.uk/solidarity-statement-advice-regarding-sag-aftra-industrial-action-2023
Find out more about the Equity Audio Committee here: https://www.equityaudio.org/
For more information on Equity’s advice and support on AI toolkit: https://www.equity.org.uk/advice-and-support/know-your-rights/ai-toolkit For more information on Equity’s Audio Action Plan: https://www.equity.org.uk/news/2022/shape-equity-s-audio-action-plan/
And if you’d like to talk about on any of the issues above, please drop us a line at email@example.com