Neighbors will wrap up production next week after 37 years, but the long-serving crew making the iconic show say the production company Fremantle has refused to pay them their layoff.
The Australian soap, which launched the international careers of numerous local stars, including Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce, was shut down earlier this year after Britain’s Channel 5 announced it would no longer buy the program. After failing to find another British broadcaster to share the cost of making the show, it was announced that the show would be coming to an end – but the crew, including someone who had been there since the soap’s very first episode , says they have been treated badly.
“They’ve Had” Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan recently come to shoot sceneswhich is great,” Paul Stanley, an organizer with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union, told Guardian Australia.
“That’s cool, but you’ve got people working here who took eight weeks off last year to ‘save the show’. You say you can’t pay us layoffs and yet you put money into the talent.”
Broadcast by Channel 10 and produced by Fremantle in Australia, Neighbors has been largely funded by Channel 5 since 2008, with the residents of Ramsay Street drawing more viewers in the UK than in their own country.
Neighbors union representatives said they’ve met with Fremantle executives several times in recent months to discuss the “devastating impact of the show’s cancellation on its long-serving crew,” which employs about 100 people, including casting directors, costume designers. , directors, location managers, make-up artists, researchers, screenwriters, set designers and producers.
Union sources say Fremantle claims that the workers are not employees but contractors and thus are not entitled to the usual employee standards, even though their contracts have been renewed annually for years.
Although the cast and crew of Neighbors worked through the pandemiclast year they were asked to step down unpaid for eight weeks to “save the show” when it became unclear where the funding came from.
Donovan and Minogue, who played Scott and Charlene in the 1980s, will return after more than 30 years for the show’s finale in August.
“Fremantle is trying to avoid payment to crew that have been loyal to the production, in some cases for decades, under the guise of rolling fixed-term contracts,” the union said in a bulletin after the show was shut down.
“The company has responded by extending a deadline it set for the crew to accept lower payments to allow time for negotiations. Members will continue to work together in the coming weeks to ensure their entitlements are paid out.
“This week Fremantle reported a 25% increase in revenue in 2021 to $2.9 billionwhich contributes strongly to a record profit for parent company RTL Group.”
Channel 5, owned by US media giant Paramount, also expect record profits from the back of the lockdown boom in viewing. It has decided to reallocate its budget to more original programmes after the success of shows like the All Creatures Great and Small revival and said the layoff terms were an issue for the production company: “Neighbours is produced by Fremantle Australia and we cannot comment on their HR matters.”
A crew member who has worked on the Neighbors set for three decades said he was very disappointed with Fremantle: “Some of us have been here for 30 years and they just say they don’t recognize the service,” he said.
“They always make it clear that at Neighbours, we’re all part of the family, but then it’s the end of the show, which of course is sad, and they just turn around and say ‘well, you’re not entitled to benefits’ So it’s a bit frustrating and disappointing.”
Fremantle Australia director Greg Woods did not answer questions from Guardian Australia but said the company had complied with its legal obligations.
“In order to protect the well-being of our cast and crew, who are our primary concern, and with production just over a week left, we will not be making a detailed comment at this time,” Woods said. “In addition, as part of company policy, we also do not comment on HR-related matters.
“However, I can confirm that we have sought outside advice to ensure that we are providing the necessary support and that we are complying with everyone’s legal rights and complying fully with our obligations.
“Our priority is and will continue to be to support the well-being of our cast and crew as production begins next Friday.”
Stanley says the crew ranges from people who’ve worked seven to 10 years and more, to a crew member who calls himself “Patient Zero Neighbors” because he’s been there from the start — “that’s basically your whole working life.”
“They were initially offered four weeks of ‘special leave’ if they had been there for more than 12 months on top of extended service leave and their annual leave was paid,” said Stanley.
“We had a meeting with Fremantle and we got it up to eight weeks for some people, which helps. Nine-year-olds are entitled to 16 weeks of layoff, but are offered eight.”
While some employees have accepted the deal, others have stuck with it, saying “it’s not fair, it’s not right,” said Stanley. “They want film crews in the industry to be treated better.”
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