At midday on Monday 2 April 2012, the employers organisation for the Australian arts industry – Live Performance Australia (LPA) – informed Actor’s Equity of their plans to terminate the standing Agreement which governs the use of Foreign Artists in Live Theatre in Australia.
Equity, the performer’s union, have condemned the move to terminate The Agreement, which has been in place for nearly 20 years, labelling the LPA’s decision as “outrageous”.
Established in 1993 to assist the development of the live performance industry and expand work opportunities for Australian performers, The Agreement outlines a set of mutually agreed circumstances in which a producers can import overseas performers for Australian productions.
It is understood that the LPA have been consulting with ‘key members’ about their issues with The Agreement for a year, but that it had not been the subject of any recent negotiations or discussions between Equity and LPA.
Newly appointed Director of Equity, Sue McCreadie spoke with AussieTheatre about LPA’s surprise announcement.
“They hadn’t signalled that they had some issues with it”, she said. “They haven’t spelled out their issues – they are very vague. It really begs the question of why?.”
Why, indeed. Without this agreement in place, the only provisions which would govern the importation of foreign artists and crew into Australia’s Live Performance Industry would be the 1994 Migration Regulations, McCreadie told AussieTheatre today.
“It’s an ineffective set of regulations for this industry” said McCreadie, “and because it’s ineffective, that’s the reason we negotiated this Agreement with LPA some twenty years ago”.
According to McCreadie, if an employer wishes to import performers to occupy leading roles, they would meet the 1994 Migration Regulations if they demonstrate they are hiring Australian workers elsewhere in the production.
“What this means for performers is that, if the Agreement is terminated employers will be able to import leads on commercial and subsidised productions by simply demonstrating that they have hired [Australian] front-of-house staff. The Agreement was established to ensure that Australian performers have a reasonable chance at securing opportunities on productions in Australia and it is still as necessary as ever.” said McCreadie.
“LPA’s decision to rip up the agreement without any prior discussions is outrageous” she said.
It is understood that not all members of the LPA are in favour of the move to terminate The Agreement, which, if successful would cease to be effective 12 weeks from Monday 2 April.
McCreadie suggested that, if the LPA did not behave “reasonably” and “come back to the negotiating table” on this issue, then Equity may look to create individual importation agreements with companies across Australia.
“We would be very keen to do that, definitely. And we would narrow down those who are hostile to The Agreement”, she said.
This move by the LPA has been viewed by some as a lack of belief in the talent of Australian performers, harking back to the late 80s where industrial action was taken in the lead up to the negotiation of The Agreement.
“What galls performers here is when imports are brought in for no reason and that had been happening in the past. There was industrial action occurring in the late 80s and early 90s in the lead up to this agreement, as it was a matter that performers felt very strongly about”, McCreadie said.
“It’s not a union engineered thing, it was brought about by the performers themselves, and as a union we negotiated and implemented it.”
McCreadie and the team at Equity will now consult with members to outline what is at stake for performers and to decide on a course of action.
“There is already a huge amount of concern among members and obviously we will be consulting with them before anything else”, she said.
The Agreement currently covers a variety of genres – dance, drama, musical theatre, opera and ballet – and takes into account a raft of factors including box office considerations, ethnic or physical requirements of particular roles, whether the companies are subsidised by Government or not among other issues.
“As an industry we should be working together constructively to build a strong, vibrant, sustainable live performance sector. Ripping up this Agreement is not the solution”, said McCreadie.
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No shows which have already been cast will be affected by the termination of this agreement