THE TIMING of Prime Time’s recent breathless exposé of the Irish film industry was less than perfect for the Irish Film Workers Association (IFWA), the ‘union’ that has been getting a lot of traction since its appearance before Peadar Tóibín’s Oireachtas culture committee earlier this year.
What prompted Prime Time to report on the industrial relations issues was ostensibly the increased argy-bargy at studios and filming locations, but IFWA head John Arkins could have done without the implication that the up-front tactics of his IFWA union are increasingly unwelcome in the industry.
At the Oireachtas committee hearing earlier this year, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett started asking uncomfortable questions about the huge spend by the taxpayer on the sector, highlighting the conditions and job security of workers in the sector. When Screen Ireland chief executive James Hickey appeared before the committee, he duly agreed to the suggestion that the film agency reactivate a moribund film industry forum that hadn’t met for years.
The forum, representing a cross-section of interests in the sector – including workers, training bodies, producers and public sector players – is due to meet imminently. However, a question to Siptu’s Karan O’Loughlin towards the end of last week’s sensational RTÉ programme – asking if her union would sit with the IFWA at the forum – elicited the response, “That would be very difficult.”
Screen Ireland has since said, “The implementation of this [Oireachtas committee] recommendation is proving challenging given the context of the revelations in the recently broadcast on the RTÉ Prime Time programme, which focused on bullying and harassment in the film and television industry.”
Meanwhile, Ictu has come out and said it “will only sit on a forum of workers represented by legitimate trade unions”. (For Ictu, that does not include the IFWA.)
There’s no doubt that the IFWA has lacked some of the organisation of more established unions but, without its agitation, there would be no talk of reactivating the film industry forum, where contentious industrial relations issues can be raised. One Prime Time contributor spoke about having stuck his neck out in the past over a situation “kept in the dark too long”.
The programme didn’t tell viewers what’s being kept in the dark, by whom and why.