WGGB and the BBC have reached agreement on a “loyalty bonus scheme” to ensure writers on Doctors and other popular long-running series do not suffer swingeing pay cuts later this year.
The problem arose because a former 15% additional payment for iPlayer use and repeats on BBC3 and BBC4 has been ended in favour of generally better arrangements. Under a transitional arrangement, the payment was extended until July this year for Doctors, Casualty and Holby City, but will then disappear.
WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett explains the dilemma: “The trouble with ‘transitional’ arrangements is that they come to an end, and meanwhile it became clear that Doctors writers in particular are unlikely to benefit significantly either from the iPlayer or higher repeat fees on secondary channels.”
WGGB responded by organising a meeting of members and non-members from Doctors and arranged for a writer from the series to address the BBC negotiating forum. Email forums sounded the opinions of those who couldn’t attend and a united position was established. The BBC responded with an offer of new money through a “multi-episode bonus scheme” (MEBS).
It means that any writer who is commissioned to provide at least three episodes over a year will receive a 15% bonus payment on every script delivered in that year.
WGGB and its negotiating partner, the Personal Managers’ Association, pressed for further improvements, but the BBC rejected those suggestions.
Nevertheless, according to Corbett, the new scheme is “a positive development, and a life-saver for some writers whose earnings could have fallen off a cliff. We will monitor this carefully in its first year and will continue to press for a general uplift in the pay of LRS writers, particularly on Doctors, which looks to us like the lowest-paid continuing drama on UK network television.”
The BBC unilaterally offered to extend the scheme to Casualty and Holby City, which was welcomed by WGGB, although as those shows produce fewer episodes each year, a smaller number of writers will benefit. MEBS money is in addition to the Writers Digital Payments money from the use of iPlayer that will soon be coming on stream, and does not buy any further rights – it is a straight bonus.
In a separate development, writers on the Welsh language soap Pobol y Cwm found themselves facing a substantial cut in earnings due to the cancellation of the Sunday omnibus and a cut from five to four episodes per week. As all Pobol y Cwm writers are WGGB members, they were able to organise a strong and rapid response. The BBC has offered WGGB significant increases in episode fees and other improvements, and the offer is currently being considered by writers in Wales.
Corbett commented: “We are still in negotiations, but it is already clear that what would have been a huge blow to writers’ earnings will be substantially softened due to the united action of the writers on a 100% union show.”
The collective efforts of WGGB and the Doctors and Pobol y Cwm writers in confronting the BBC with a united front and a coherent, well-argued case have been crucial. WGGB Television Committee chair Bill Armstrong says: “There is no reason that this should not work for other shows. The Guild continues its efforts to contact writers who aren’t members, identify their interests and help them to come together, organise and argue their case for better terms and conditions. We welcome any information – from members and non-members – that helps us help you.”