It’s always worth looking at how other countries do work hours in the film and TV industry, and it is a commonplace view that the Swedish drama sector manages a high quality of production on working hours that also give their crew a work-life balance.
To get to the bottom of this, I called Bectu’s a sister union in Sweden – Scen and Film – The Swedish Union for Performing Arts and Film Sweden.
I gave Eleonor Fahlén there a call to discuss how their productions work. Eleonor tells me that there is an elected paid union rep on each production. In theory, they do their union work during the normal working day, but they sometimes have to do some of it in their own time. They are working on the production but getting some money from the union for their extra work. The productions pay 0.2% of their total freelance wage bill to the union to cover this money.
This forms part of the collective agreement that the union has with production companies [English version – PDF] (see p.7). The employers welcome having a union rep and they try and persuade people to get elected as it makes it easier to consult with the crew.
The backdrop to this conversation is the legal protections that Swedish workers enjoy – protections that are better than those available to UK workers). Most importantly, the working week is limited to 40 hours. This must be managed using an accounting period of four weeks during which the average week can’t exceed 40.
In practice, because productions may want to have a week where they need more working hours, they may work a pattern something like this over a four-week accounting period:
- WK1 – 50 hours
- WK2 – 30 hours
- WK3 – 40 hours
- WK4 – 40 hours
Also, the crew gets their final schedules 14 days in advance, and the collective agreement imposes a penalty fee for any changes.
Legally, there is limited access to Overtime working available, but it is a good deal less permissive than the standards used in the UK.
Their agreement has an overtime rate. The standard agreed working day is eight hours and overtime is paid on any further hours anyway (to a maximum of 10 hours), but there is an important caveat here: While overtime can be worked, it can’t be planned for or scheduled. It can be done where it’s needed, but it is done only in exceptional circumstances and it can’t be norm. There are rules about how much notice must be given if overtime is to be requested.
Either way, the shooting day is limited to a ten-hour day by the collective agreements (eleven elapsed hours including an unpaid hour for lunch which is almost always taken when working a day-shoot). In some cases, during night work, the lunch may be shortened to a 30 min break.
Productions can do this, but the norm is that they would seek agreement first. There are legal minimums relating to breaks – it should be at least 30 mins after five hours. (A second break in the day can be shorter – 15 mins).
Because of this legal framework, productions will usually schedule a four-day week, or if they go to five days a week, it is likely to be a block of five eight-hour days, or perhaps a flexible option (e.g. 10 – 8 – 9 – 7 – 6 = 40 hours. This point highlights Bectu’s view that it is possible to improve scheduling if production is prepared to invest more because a Swedish production would definitely need to spend more on planning.
Their agreement doesn’t have any Continuous Working Days or Semi-continuous Working Days (in the UK, people may be asked to work through all or part of their lunch or accept a ‘running lunch’ in return for a shorter working day at the full day-rate).
Also, because Overtime can’t be planned, prep-and-wrap working can’t generally be scheduled either. Prep and Wrap must be done within the working day so crew need to be scheduled accordingly, though it is not unheard of for some crew will work with employers to bend the rules and work a bit of overtime to help with prep-and-wrap.
The Swedish agreement has an 11-hour daily turnaround and a 36 hour weekly rest – this can be placed wherever the employers want, so it’s not necessarily a ‘weekend rest’. For details on how the working hours are managed, see paras 27-33 (p20 onwards) of the agreement.
All in all, the Swedish experience is that high-quality drama can be produced on sensible terms if employers are prepared to invest more in scheduling. Their production sector is growing rapidly at the moment so it doesn’t appear to be too much of a deterrent to investment. We should look at using it as a template.