In The Union

March 27th, 2019

March 27th, 2019

It’s well-known that the makeup industry can take your career in a myriad of different ways.  Retail and education are two of the most frequent routes, but there’s a host of more unusual roles, such as support services and professional representation.  In unstable times, it’s reassuring to know that there are organisations that have your back.  Warpaint caught up with BECTU’s Polly Avison.


What’s your job title and what does the role entail?

My job title is Organising Official, and I work mainly in the London Production Division.  The role involves supporting the development of membership branches, including the Media Hair and Make-up Branch, and representing our members in monies owed cases and employment disputes.

Do you have a makeup background and, if so, where did you train?

My career as a wiggy spanned almost nine years.  Apart from working in Paris for two years, I worked mainly in the West End, and latterly at The National Theatre where I joined BECTU and became active.  I trained at the Christine Blundell Make-up Academy.

National Theatre London

What brought you to BECTU?

One of my brilliant supervisors at The National Theatre encouraged me to join BECTU, and shortly after I became the WHAM department Rep.  During the negotiations of our terms and conditions I realised I wanted to concentrate on union activity, so I started looking for organising job opportunities.  I was always hoping that one day I would work BECTU.

Tell us about the background to the Union.

BECTU stands for Broadcast Entertainment Communications Theatre Union.  It was founded in 1991 and is part of the Federation of Entertainment Unions alongside Equity, Musicians Union, the National Union of Journalists, the Professional Footballers’ Association, Unite and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.  The purpose of the organisation is to improve working conditions in the film, TV and theatre industries.  Our members range from BBC journalists to runners and theatre chaperones.


What are the membership benefits for Hair and Makeup artists?

  • Very inexpensive PLI and accident cover at £38 per annum
  • Access to Early Bird, a directory of up-coming productions, giving you a competitive edge when applying for jobs
  • Legal representation
  • Networking with like-minded Hair and Make-up artists
  • Training – BECTU and Equity have linked up in recent years to provide BAME Hair and Make-up training as a response to a lack of understanding of the skills needed when working with BAME actors

Can students get involved too?

We have a student register which is free to join and which keeps students in touch with industry news and event invitations until they graduate.  At this point, we remind graduates they can join for £5 per month and receive all the benefits of full membership.  2019 is the TUC’s Year of the Young Worker and we are holding a big event in September for students and new entrants to network and receive advice on freelancing.  We’re also hoping to hold a short film competition for newly graduated members.


What events are organised by the Media Makeup and Hair Branch?

Our Media Make-up and Hair Branch is 776 members strong, and the committee are very dedicated.  Fortunately they’re often very busy with work, but they hold quarterly branch meetings where they discuss the most pressing industry issues.


Are they regional or London-centric?

The meetings are mainly London-based, but we have a growing network in the north and they communicate via several different platforms.  This is the most important aspect of Trade Union Organising: keeping the conversation going even when members live and work in different locations.

The BECTU rate cards are frequently circulated on social media.  How can members use this to improve their working conditions?

The rate cards we publish are very detailed and are based on the information our members provide us with.  They should be used as a guide to how much you should be paid according to the budget bracket of the production you’re working on.  BECTU rate cards are really important for freelancers who have to negotiate their own rates with an employer, and we rely on our members to inform us when productions do not respect them.


What inspired the #EyesHalfShut campaign?

BECTU surveyed the industry about working hours, and their effect on productivity, safety and wellbeing.  The response was overwhelming and the health and safety implication of working excessively long hours became clear.  BECTU is calling for all parts of the industry to come together to form a commission dedicated to reducing the industry’s reliance on a long-hours working culture.

If you would like more information about how to join BECTU, visit the website.



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By Emma Rutherford

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