Why the need for a South African Guild of Actors?
The South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) is the foremost organisation representing actors in the film, television, stage, commercial and corporate sectors in South Africa. The Guild exists to enhance actors' working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists' rights.
- 1933 USA - Actors in Hollywood worked on films with unrestricted working hours, no enforced turn-around and no formal meal breaks. If they rebelled against the studios and their working conditions, they were in for a hard time. Fuelled by both idealism (the belief that mobilising the acting community can create change) and outrage, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was created to build a respected organisation to protect actors. SAG focused on key issues and their victories slowly created the US entertainment industry as we know it today. Notable wins include -
- 1952 USA – Actors are able to claim a residual payment for television re-runs
- 1953 USA – The first commercial contracts for actors
- 1960 USA – After an industry-wide strike, actors have the right to claim residuals for films shown on television.
- 2012 USA – The merger of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in March 2012 was the culmination of a thirty-two year struggle to bring the two powerful Hollywood performers' unions together.
85 years on, SAG-AFTRA is still fighting tirelessly for improved conditions and better rights for actors.
2018 South Africa – Notwithstanding South Africa’s claim to the most progressive labour laws in the world, actors in our country are in the same position today as American actors were more than 50 years ago.
Not recognised as ‘employees’ by the current labour laws, but rather as INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS (self-employed individuals with no regular employer), actors are, are not able to claim benefits and have no bargaining power when it comes to contacts, disputes and rates. Under the current laws, by definition, self-employed individuals are precluded from registering a labour union.
Nevertheless, it is only by mobilising as a group that actors will achieve the critical mass to make a difference in our professional lives. The time has come to stand together to improve our working conditions and to make the practice of our craft an economically viable and sustainable one.
The most effective way is to establish a body for artists that is in all respects equivalent to a trade union.
Known in the US as a guild (which is built on the same principle as a trade union), such an organisation primarily aims to:
- Negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements which establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits and working conditions for actors, as well as
- Collect compensation for the exploitation of actors’ recorded performances i.e. collection of repeat fees.
These are just two of the most pressing matters facing South Africa actors working in the performance industry today. There are many more issues demanding attention and a number of injustices which must be rectified. Through an official channel such as the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) we aim to highlight and address these formally with industry players.
SAGA has been created to give actors a platform to articulate grievances and more importantly to propose solutions to collective problems. Its strength lies in the energy and commitment each member is able to contribute and in the union partner it has selected (UASA).
The entertainment industry in the US has shown that with commitment, active members pursuing a single objective and well-organised mobilisation IT IS POSSIBLE not only to impact legislation, but to re-create legislation to ensure that the acting profession is treated fairly and with respect.