Broadcast union Bectu is trying to sign up more than 400 staff working on ITV's The Billto a collective bargaining agreement to tackle claims of poor working conditions on the show.
Broadcast union Bectu is trying to sign up more than 400 staff working on ITV's The Billto a collective bargaining agreement to tackle claims of poor working conditions on the show.

It is the first time the union has sought to negotiate for all staff on a particular show.

The union will this week ballot staff on the programme on whether they want to be represented by Bectu for negotiations on pay, holidays and working conditions with The Bill's producer, Talkback Thames. The ballot has gone out to all staff who have worked on The Billin the past 12 months, or are due to work on the series in the next three months. Most are freelancers with around 20 being permanent staff members.

The union said the move comes in the wake of long-running dissatisfaction over working hours on the twice weekly ITV1 soap.

If staff vote in favour the union would create an unprecedented "bargaining unit" of around 420 employees and have the power to negotiate on behalf of almost all staff working on the programme.

The union has admitted The Billis a test case and it is already planning a similar strategy for other long-running shows. It would not name the programmes it is thinking of targeting, but likely candidates could include soaps such as Emmerdaleand Coronation Street, where a fortnight ago writers hit out at schedule changes they claimed were made to shore up ailing reality TV series.

Bectu said the number of union members working on The Billhas trebled over the past year as dissatisfaction over working conditions mounted.

The ballot result is expected by 15 July and, if successful, Bectu will look to replace the individual, one-off contracts issued to freelancers with three or four standard contracts dependent on role and experience, as well as securing a better deal for permanent staff.

"I don't think it would have the same shape as the Bectu/Pact one-size-fits-all contract. We're talking about something bespoke and tailored to the needs of a particular, very long-running production. It seems to us it would be a win-win for producers and production staff," said Bectu assistant general secretary Martin Spence.

A spokeswoman for Talkback Thames said: "The vote is purely and simply a question of whether individuals want to continue their ability to negotiate with the management directly or nominate the union to represent them, thereby creating a whole new layer of red tape," she said.

"The management team at The Billenjoy an open relationship with their employees and are keen that ongoing internal progress will continue to flourish, despite the outcome of the ballot."