Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

People engaged in the film and television industry are worried that proposed legislation to recognise them as employees and not contractors will make SA less attractive as a film location.

Labour and employment minister Thulas Nxesi published his intention in the Government Gazette of December 11 2019 to deem those working in the sector as employees rather than contractors, in order for them to benefit from the Labour Relations Act.

Should the contractors be deemed employees they will be entitled to annual leave and pay, sick leave, maternity leave and severance pay, among other benefits. The minister gave interested parties 60 days to submit written contributions.

The Association of Crew Agents of SA (Acasa) argues that should the changes be implemented they would lessen the country’s attractiveness as a filming destination and only benefit the SA Revenue Service (Sars) through more tax.

The investors will have to pay more in the form of taxes, pensions and other benefits, making SA a more expensive film location.

In a note to the film industry in January, Acasa said if the legislation was passed it would “massively benefit Sars” and  the labour department because film crews and production companies would be liable for less tax and have more expenses.

SA has in recent years become a popular destination for international filmmakers for offering an affordable alternative. Movies such as District 9, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomb Raider, 10,000 BC, Invictus, Dredd and Safe House were shot in the country and created hundreds of jobs for extras, film crews and contractors.

However, the welfare of SA actors has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, culminating in veteran actress Vatiswa Ndara writing an open letter to arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa in October 2019 bemoaning exploitive practices in the industry. Several actors rallied behind her, calling for an overhaul of the industry.

In 2018, several actors under the SA Guild of Actors (SAGA) went to parliament to make contributions to the Performers Protection Amendment Bill, which is now on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s desk awaiting his signature.

Veteran actress Florence Masebe told MPs about the plight actors faced due to poor wages, questionable contracts and the non-payment of royalties.

In 2014, 16 Generations actors were sacked after they staged an illegal strike demanding better pay, extended contracts and royalties from episodes that have been rebroadcast.

Acasa said should the contractors be deemed to be employees they will be liable to pay unemployment insurance on all their earnings; that their equipment or kit hire would then be non-taxable; and “as employees, you are not able to apply for or receive tax directives”.

“In our opinion, the entity that benefits most from this change is Sars. The only other entities that may benefit financially from this would be the long form crew or cast members of local television shows (primarily shot in Johannesburg),” the association said.

“For the industry as a whole, we are concerned that additional costs to productions, as well as the logistical nightmare of implementing the changes, would lessen our attractiveness as a filming destination. We are trying to bring in work, not repel it. We feel strongly that this is a short-sighted and ill-thought out plan that can only be detrimental to our service industry as a whole.”

However, department of employment & labour acting director-general Virgil Seafield said there would not be any benefit to the department. “If there is a benefit to be derived, it would be to workers. But the number of workers in the arts and culture sector is insignificant so there is no real financial benefit,” said Seafield.

Nxesi's spokesperson, Sabelo Mali, confirmed that the final day for written submissions is Tuesday.