How to nourish a healthier and more representative freelance workforce:
This Way Up 21 Delegates discuss Dial F for Freelancer’s Code of Conduct
Anna Kime, May 2022
At This Way Up 2021 Dial F for Freelancer held an industry discussion on our emerging Code of Conduct for organisations working with freelancers in film exhibition and distribution. Conference delegates responded with ideas as to how the code should be applied in practice. The Code’s guidance covers Duty of Care, Wellbeing, Pay-rates and Time scales and Transparency.
Delegates were able to respond directly via live messaging software used across the conference. Direct quotes from contributors have been used as a result throughout this write up. Exhibitors were impassioned in their response and keen to outline the specific ways employers could implement the Code of Conduct.
You can also download a pdf of these recommendations here.
Duty of Care
“Setting aside time in a project pipeline for these conversations and communication is important. It’s usually neglected as everyone is too busy with their own job to properly integrate freelancers.” – Conference delegate
Freelancers deserve a duty of care from the organisations who employ them. Delegates were keen to discuss how employers could integrate freelancers more fully and thoughtfully into their environs as part of their workforce, albeit temporarily. Delegates felt keeping clear and in advance communication in mind was critical for employers here. Employers, ask yourselves: Would I exclude PAYE staff from an all staff email? Would I forget to invite a permanent member of staff to a relevant meeting or not offer a closing conversation when they leave my employment? Repositioning the employer space freelancers occupy would alleviate the risk of exclusion causing freelancers to work less happily and less effectively, chasing information they need and continually feeling out of the loop.
“We need to value difference” – Conference delegate
It was clear delegates felt organisations too often played safe in their hiring of freelancers with many contributors suggesting employers should resist “recruiting in their own image”. A direct consequence of hiring known contacts means organisations are missing out on the opportunity to broaden the workforce and are not “valuing lived experience/difference as a result”. Organisations need to think more carefully about managing freelancers time more effectively. If project budgets include provision for research and development, involvement of the freelancer at this stage will ensure the project is delivered more effectively and with less stress for either party.
“I worked on a festival which had exit interviews with every freelancer, which felt great as we could discuss which elements of the role and organisation needed improving.” – Conference delegate
Dial F believes employers have a responsibility to ensure that freelancers’ wellbeing is as considered and supported as the wellbeing of employees. It was clear delegates felt freelancers are in the best position to give honest and constructive feedback to employers on their experiences but are the least empowered to do so. They fear risking their reputation and chance of future employment by speaking out. Delegates stressed “People are freelance for different reasons” and how pressures of work impact variously on individuals must be acknowledged and anticipated by employers.
“People need to be able to bring their whole selves to work – leadership should lead on this. A healthy workplace means everyone should be able to say “this (decision) doesn’t feel right” & be listened to” – Conference delegate
Freelancers need to be reassured that any critique they offer of an organisation or project won’t influence their future employment. Organisations should also be cognisant of the obstacles to freelancing, especially if an individual is starting out. Employers should ask themselves how else can they be welcoming and supportive towards their freelancers to boost their wellbeing and sense of place within the industry. Delegates suggested freelancers be included on organisation’s websites and for employers to consider how else they can promote, publicise and endorse the services and expertise they benefit from.
Pay-rates and Time scales
“Festivals with higher budgets need to pay their freelancers with a similar parity to their year round staff, where you have producers/directors on £35-50k.” – Conference delegate
Freelancers consistently deliver essential work for organisations on time and to budget, and should be treated as any other essential supplier or service provider. This area of our code generated the most discussion amongst delegates with frequently made suggestions on how to formalise rates of pay, terms of payment and protecting freelancers from exploitation. Organisations should recognise freelancers require different standard payment terms to larger scale suppliers and it is no longer acceptable to defer to ‘what has always been done’. The substantial economic and psychological harm caused by late payments and time consuming financial administration was starkly underlined by the strength of the discussion here. Related to this it became apparent delays for understandable reasons such as sickness are rarely recognised or allowed for by organisations employing freelancers. Delegates made the following key suggestions to employers:
- Agree payment dates (not invoice dates) as part of the contract removing 30 day terms
- A tiered rate card based on festival budget could and should also be an option. I work on festivals with budgets ranging from £100k-£1m+.
- Don’t expect freelancers to attend all meetings without accounting for their time. Especially when others in the meeting are salaried.
- Freelancers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a higher rate or at least to negotiate a higher rate, particularly given current inflation – don’t just accept what you were paid last year
- Freelancers are entitled to add late fees / interest on unpaid invoices
- Connect your freelancer with your finance team early on so they can speak directly.
- If it’s a project fee for x months for £x total be clear about how many days/hours a week you are expecting for that fee- and don’t then be surprised if your freelancer has other p/t work on the go
“Organisations and institutions need to adopt a freelance employment policy in the same way they do with equality etc, and funders need to require this.” – Conference delegate
Dial F believes accountability is essential to foster positive working relationships as a standard. Freelancers often feel unprotected and precarious in their dialogues with employers. Recruitment frequently feels like a closed shop where organisations repeatedly hire a known contact.
Delegates recommended freelancers have a “designated lead contact who you can go to with questions / issues etc – akin to a line manager – someone who will support and represent your issues / needs to the management of organisation”. “Clear lines of recourse” were also suggested where freelancers encounter problems with employers. This is particularly pertinent regarding intellectual property rights which should be agreed between both parties before a project begins.
Being transparent with your freelance employees should also apply to the parameters of contracts. Organisations should be honest about their available budgets and work with freelancers to alleviate pressures on fees. For example, “If I need to lower my rate to fit a mean budget I could be paid the ridiculous London train fare from the travel budget for eg or given time with the CEO”
“Freelancers are unable to sign up as hub [BFI Lottery funded Film Audience Network Film Hub] members which makes them unable to access all those opportunities unless they collaborate with another organisation.” – Conference delegate
In addition to the areas of the code of conduct, delegates contributed some general thoughts about supporting freelancers. For example, delegates reminded the industry that freelancers cannot become members of the BFI Lottery funded Film Audience Network in their own right, removing access to financial or training and development support. Delegates also offered newer ideas to challenge traditional or normalised recruitment practices. A maximum level of experience could be given on job specifications for instance.
In addition to our Code of Conduct work Dial F for Freelancer (with thanks to the ICO and BFI awarding funds from the National Lottery) is delighted to be working with NCVO on a series of guided sessions to explore the best route to constituting the informal group in order to have a greater and more sustainable impact on the industry.
Do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining Dial F’s Steering Group. We aim to be truly representative of the sectors we support and respect our colleagues’ ongoing professional and personal commitments.
You can also download a pdf of these recommendations here.