The multi-crore T.V. industry impacts every home in urban and much of rural India. Little is known, however, about the intensely exploitative working conditions of the workers behind the scenes, whose labour plays a vital role in the commercial success of this glamour industry.
May 13 witnessed a flash strike by T.V. technicians at the film City in Mumbai. More than 2,000 members of the Allied Mazdoor Union, which represents light men, set makers and spot boys, stopped work at numerous film and TV shoots, demanding better wages, timely payments and more reasonable working hours.
According to the Allied Mazdoor Union, technicians and spot boys make up about 60% of the work force on any film or TV set. Given that India is one of the world’s largest producers of films and daily soap operas, this is a massive labour force. In 1998, Sreemati Sushma Swaraj, then union minister for Information and Broadcasting, officially granted the film world the status of an industry. Despite this, till today, the technical workers in the film and T.V. industry are not protected by any labour laws and are considered part of the unorganised sector.
Highlighting the plight of the workers, Shri Shrivastav, general secretary of the Union said that at present, the only protection of the workers’ rights in the T.V. industry is a memorandum of understanding signed periodically between four producers associations and the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, the parent body of 22 unions that work with film technicians and craftsmen.
The MoU stipulates that technicians will work for not more than 12 hours at a time. For some technicians, like light men, who have to put in additional time before and after each shoot to set up and dismantle lights, the day usually stretches up to 18 hours.
Light men also often work with equipment that is mounted on runways several feet above the ground, putting them at great risk. Although several workers have died because of accidents on set, they are still not given helmets, safety belts or even drinking water.
Shri Chanana, former general secretary of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, pointed out that there are no provisions for the health and physical security of the technicians. Sickness level among the workers is reported to be quite high. Even Film City, a property owned by the Maharashtra state government, has no ambulances or emergency medical services at hand. Most technicians come from poor families living in the outskirts of the city, so they have to spend long hours commuting and get very little rest.
Light technicians get paid typically an average of Rs 750 a day. This is technically meant for an 8-hour shift, but they are paid this amount for 12-hour shifts and more. “These payments are often not even regular, which is another violation of the MoU,” according to the union.
Since the MoU has no legal standing, unions have started protesting by pulling their members out of film and TV sets after they complete 12 hours of work. This has sometimes led to a clash of technicians with producers.
In recent times, some filmmakers and producers too have started to acknowledge that behind the glamour of the entertainment industry, particularly the television industry, the technicians are severely overworked and underpaid. Daily T.V. soap operas require very difficult deadlines to be met and T.V. channels are reported to have often delayed payment to the producers. This affects the technical workers first, who are at the bottom of the production chain.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar supports the just struggle of the technical workers in the film and TV industry.