Writers: let’s speak with one voice

That was the rallying call from WGGB Chair Gail Renard, introducing the union’s Annual General Meeting at the St Alban’s Centre in London on Wednesday 13 September 2017.

“Companies don’t always treat us as well as they should to say the least,” she said, “But if one writer is being treated badly by a person or a company, you can bet your life that other writers are too, and it’s easy for the union to find them. That’s what our union does.

“Everything is handled anonymously and once armed with the info, the Writers’ Guild can get onto the company about their shoddy working practices without any names being mentioned. But unless you speak up, nothing will change.”

To illustrate the point she spoke about a recent example where a tip-off from a WGGB member on a long-running series led to action from the union which benefitted all writers on the same series, who “are all now receiving handsome compensation”.

The importance of acting together to achieve positive change was reiterated by the union’s newly appointed General Secretary Ellie Peers who outlined WGGB’s successes over the past year. These included:

  • Making further pay-outs under the Writers Digital Payments scheme, which since it launched in 2015 has distributed over £2 million to writers.
  • Signing a major new agreement with the BBC which includes BBC Studios for the first time and has a significant impact for children’s and animations writers.
  • Lobbying Government to ensure writers’ rights are protected during the Brexit negotiations.
  • Boycotting the Project Diamond diversity monitoring scheme, alongside BECTU and NUJ, following the broadcasters’ refusal to publish equality monitoring data for individual programmes or series.
  • Gaining funding for a major gender equality survey covering screenwriters in film and TV, which will form the basis of a campaign.

“We are a small, specialised union with a bloody big voice,” she said, adding that things were stepping up on the negotiations front. This included revisiting the union’s agreements with Pact in film and TV, and UK Theatre and ITC in theatre, and signing off a five-year deal with ITV under the Writers Digital Payments scheme. “The right to create across borders” was becoming an important plank of the union’s work on Brexit as limiting freedom of movement would impact on the creative industries.

Peers also paid tribute to former General Secretary Bernie Corbett, who retired earlier this year, and former long-serving Deputy General Secretary Anne Hogben who has also left the union in the past year. She welcomed new members of staff John Sailing and Rose Cooney, and thanked the union’s elected craft, regional chairs and officers, “the army of writers” working “behind the scenes” to achieve so much for the union. She said it was a “pleasure and privilege to be addressing the AGM as WGGB’s new General Secretary”, and said a big thank you “to you, our members”.

WGGB Treasurer Andrew Walsh told the AGM: “We are the only union that represents such a breadth of writers – we are the industry touchstone. We are the people who make sure your rights are not abused and that you get fair pay for your work.”

The AGM also featured a Meet the Writers panel event, in which representatives of the union’s craft and regional committees and officers all gave an introduction to the work going on across their areas (individual committee reports can be found in WGGB Annual Report).

Results of recent WGGB elections were announced. The updated list of WGGB Executive Council representatives can be seen in the Contacts section of our website.

The following vacancies still exist:

  • Chair of the Videogames Committee
  • Chair of the East Midlands region
  • Chair of the London & South East region
  • Chair of the North West (Merseyside) region
  • Chair of the North West (Manchester and Lancashire) region
  • Chair of the South West (Cornwall & Devon) region
  • Chair of the Yorkshire & North East region

Full or Life Members interested in applying should download this pack.

Motions were passed as follows:

• To increase the term of office for Officers of the union so they can serve four terms.

• To change the rules to make it clear that Candidate Members must transfer to Full Membership once they are eligible to do so. This motion was passed with an amendment (an updated WGGB Rule Book will be available shortly).

In her closing remarks, WGGB President Olivia Hetreed praised WGGB as an “energetic union, which keeps on coming up with new ideas”. She also said “the heart of our union is our activists” and led a round of applause in memory of WGGB stalwart Rosemary Anne Sisson, who died recently.

Photos: Kevin Leighton