24 May 2012

Insecure. Who me?


By John Maizels

Most people who work in the gigging industry are freelance.  That’s a polite way of saying not-employed-by-anyone-permanently.   Is this you?  Read on.   There are other terms, like “casual”, “part-time”, “itinerant”, “on-demand”, “self-employed” and sometimes “consultant” which can be a way of saying you’re not sure if you’re employed or not.

At their triennial Congress in May 2012, the ACTU released the results of a significant enquiry, by way of a document called “Lives on Hold – Unlocking the potential of Australia’s workforce”.  You can download a copy here:   If you don’t have a full time job but do things to earn money, then your state of unpermanence is now known as “insecure work”.   Note that it’s not you who is insecure – you might be perfectly happy – it’s about the job.   And the employers.


The report claims that some four million people in this country are in an insecure work situation.   It’s a little hard to tell how many of those people are us (live production, theatre, events, media) because the numbers come from a census which is based on what you were doing on Census Night.   Not what you wanted to be doing, or hoped to be doing, but were actually doing.

That really makes a mess of things for freelancers.  Census night tends to be on a Monday or a Tuesday, a weekly period not known for hosting major gigs or live events.  If you’re a freelance roadie, chances are you were down the pub on Census Night last year.  So… unemployed.  If you’re an actorperson, then you were probably at the same pub, as a bartender.  So… hospitality worker.

According to my diary, on the day of the 2011 Census I did a freebie familiarisation shift, researched a CX article, dropped in to a client to drum up some work, did a suit-level briefing to the Chair of a national training organisation, and annoyed my financial advisor.   All of those people made money from my actions on that day, but I didn’t.  Was I unemployed?  Insecure?  I didn’t quite know what to explain to Mr Census and his online questioning, so I might have filled in my employer as “TheMaiz” just so I didn’t feel totally bereft.


It’s important for us to know how many of us there are, and what we contribute to the economy.  One survey last year of musicians, technicians and small venues (pubs and clubs, mainly) estimated that we generate an aggregate of $500-1000 million every year, which includes the revenue from grog and food and flow-ons, in addition to money at the door.   I have reason to believe it’s a reasonable statistic, and I’d love to know who is actually getting all that moola.

To work out a revenue per artist/technician, the survey extrapolated real data against census numbers from 2006.  Back then the census estimated that 15,000 people were employed as performers (musos, actors, dancers, entertainers).  Last week the Alliance quoted that 50,000 people currently derive their income from the creative industries as performers or crew.   Quick check with a numberator: are there really one-point-something technicians for every performer?  I’m inclined to think we outnumber them, but I also think there might be more of both of us.  Since I clearly don’t trust the official Department of Count, expect to see me coming round the country to count you all during the 2013 CX roadshow.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on the ACTU activity in regard to Insecure Work.  There are some important reforms that the live performance and media industries could embrace, especially in the way we measure and value training.  My hope is that the climate is right for a bit of change.


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