Extras: WILL LEGISLATION PROTECT GIG WORKERS IN THEATER – OR SIMPLY RESTRICT OPPORTUNITIES FOR MINORITY GROUPS?

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by Nia Liat on October 25, 2022

in Extras,Theater-Regional

Will Legislation Protect Gig Workers In Theater –
Or Simply Restrict Opportunities For Minority Groups?

When it comes to stage and cinema, productivity relies completely on gig workers. However, new legislation has started to threaten that delicate ecosystem. According to British drama mag The Stage, legislation coming into force in California will threaten the ability of smaller theaters to contract workers, as they will be required to provide the full range of employment terms and benefits if they are to work over a set number of hours per week. On the flipside, there is an argument to be made that these changes will help to give greater agency to gig workers, especially those with protected characteristics, and protect their rights in a more steadfast manner.

Lay of the land

The by-the-hour work of gig economy professionals means that they do lack some fundamental rights and protections offered to formal employees. As Time magazine highlights, this can concern areas of overtime, minimum pay, and sickness. However, there are areas that are well covered by legislation. One good example is in disability protection. Due to provisions in federal and state laws, even gig economy workers have a right to protection over their individual disabilities – the same rights that any other employee would attract. As such, there are already some protections in place to sponsor inclusivity in the world of cinema and stage, even if it doesn’t advance the gig economy as a whole.

Likely to marginalize?

There are challenges that need to be broached, even on stage, when it comes to disability rights in the workplace. According to NPR, disabled workers in particular are at risk of victimization in the workplace and receiving lower wages; one study found that some disabled workers are at risk of earning as little as $3.34 an hour. This is due to a number of factors, including a willingness to accept lower wage offers in response to the overall difficulty in finding employment – and these factors may well be exacerbated by new employment laws that seek to classify all gig workers as formal employees.

Changing the record

According to the Human Rights Watch, the new Biden administration bill that would change the employment type of gig workers may spell disaster for earnings. It will potentially force a choice for businesses and employees in flexible versus steady earnings, with the potential outcome being neither, or creative tinkering around how hours are issued. In the theater and screen industry this may not be as pronounced; it may be entirely possible to pay workers over a period on a full contract, and the film and stage industry is relatively well suited to providing for its members from a wide range of backgrounds.

An industry that is positive towards the needs of those within it may stand to benefit, in partnership, through the changes mooted in the new legal approach to gig workers. An inclusive and disability-positive stage and cinema scene will help to create that environment.

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