By Adrian Galley
The recent Generations debacle elicited much heated discussion on the social media with lengthy threads of self-replicating spirogyra clogging the pond for days. Strong opinions sprouted from all corners but very few hard facts emerged amid the bluster: everyone had an answer but it seemed that no one was willing to ask the right questions. Now, as the thunder rumbles on beyond the horizon and mop-up operations get underway, perhaps it’s time to reflect on some lessons learned.
If nothing else, the circumstances under which 16 actors were dumped from the SABC soapie have highlighted the reigning confusion as to the legal status of freelance actors. Am I really no more than a wage-slave or do I, in fact, have a say in shaping my circumstances?
At a media briefing, Executive Producer Mfundi Vundla made repeated references to his “employees”, while the broadcaster’s COO Hlaudi Motseuneng insisted that actors were no more than “workers”. However, a respected and much decorated veteran of our profession, John Kani, offered a rather apt rejoinder:
“I am an actor. I am professional … therefore, when you engage me, you engage me on a contract with terms and conditions. We are both equal: you do not employ me. You cannot employ me; I do not work for you. We are in contract; we are stakeholders, we are partners”.
As our venerable colleague points out, actors are not mere servants who do the bidding of their all-powerful masters. Professional actors are not simply “units of labour” to be packaged and traded in job-lots.
The South African Guild of Actors was founded only after it had been clearly established that, as Independent Contractors, freelance actors are legally precluded from forming a union; the Department of Labour had told us as much and in no uncertain terms. What’s more, the Labour Courts have been consistent in rejecting actors who have sought their help, while the relevant Statutory Councils have been equally clear that Independent Contractors are on their own.
So where does that leave us?
If we had the choice, would we rather the government step in and regulate our industry? Or would we prefer the option of self-regulation, making the most of what we have with the range of legal tools at our disposal. It may surprise you to learn that as Independent Contractors we have many financial and tax benefits due to us that are denied the salaried employee. What’s more, these perks extend way beyond whatever security ordinary workers are given by regulation of the Labour Laws.
Wherever ignorance holds sway, we must be willing to ask the right questions. Whose interests are being served while the independent legal status of actors remains vague? I would argue that those who stand to benefit most seek our continued exploitation under the archaic mindset of the master/servant model. We actors can stand firm and demand clarity regarding our contractual independence, or we can dance on in muted silence while others pull the strings. The choice is ours.