It is hard to imagine that any reader is not intimately acquainted with the pay negotiations (or lack of them) involving public sector workers such as nurses, ambulance drivers and those involved in transportation.

Depending on your viewpoint, either the nasty unions are attempting to destroy the economy or the government is wilfully trying to drive them out of existence, inexplicably accepting that staff offered pay rises 6% to 10% below the rate of inflation will almost certainly leave the public sector, making services even worse.

While the government has an unlimited supply of money, with the ability to print more whenever necessary, those in the private sector face even greater challenges as recession looms.

It therefore comes as a very pleasant surprise to discover that the actors’ union Equity and the Independent Theatre Council have agreed major improvements to the Ethical Manager Agreement for performance and stage managers.

The fact that any employer group and trade union can agree a pay deal is a bit of an eye-opener, given what is going on elsewhere, but perhaps, perish the thought, there is more wisdom in the theatre industry than Whitehall and Downing Street?

Even better for those involved at the sharp end, having suffered through the shock of the pandemic, where income streams were literally turned off, the agreement genuinely sounds generous, particularly when taken in the context of public sector workers who are currently receiving pay rises that average a little more than 2%, while in the private sector, if you take out mega bonuses for bankers and the like, the rate is still only around 5%.

Equity and ITC have agreed that performers and stage managers will receive a 10% increase in weekly minimum salary plus a 20% rise in daily fee minimums.

Rishi Sunak—are you listening? This is how real adults behave in salary negotiations.

Even so, the figures from April 2023 are hardly sensational. Performers and stage managers will now receive a minimum weekly salary of £545 and daily fees of £120. Choreographers, designers and directors are to receive fees that will be 10% higher.

In addition, there is to be a 20% uplift on meal, daily accommodation and commuting allowances. This will not make jobbing actors or creative staff rich but it should mean that those in work can feed themselves properly and stay warm.

There has also been a major improvement to touring and relocation allowances, now combined into a living away allowance of £447.68 per week in London and £410 outside. This apparently represents an impressive 30% uplift on the existing touring allowance, and stunning uplifts of almost 250% on the London relocation allowance and 290% outside. That should put smiles on faces.

Even better, there is confirmation that in future, the principal responsibility for finding and providing accommodation will sit firmly with producers, reducing much unnecessary and unpleasant work for performance and backstage staff, who should have other priorities.

Finally, the new agreement ensures that during rehearsals, five-day weeks will be the norm, reduces maximum working hours, increases holiday entitlements beyond statutory minimums and places great emphasis on well-being, dignity, equal opportunities and environmental sustainability.

The only slight concern here might come with a worry about how some smaller producers will be able to pay for all of this. They too have faced hard times, with the pandemic followed by inflation, spiralling energy costs and smaller audiences struggling to pay commercially viable ticket prices.

Some quotes from key players emphasise the cordiality and success of the negotiations.

Charlotte Jones, Chief Executive of ITC said, “ITC members have consistently articulated their strong belief in putting the well-being of their workforce first. Despite these incredibly challenging times for performing arts producers, this community has recognised the importance of addressing the cost of living crisis and improving working conditions in the sector. Our conference in November focussed on well-being and I believe the newly improved minimum terms we have negotiated with Equity will provide the foundations to enhance the well-being of creative teams. Thank you to all the ITC managers who supported us in this process.”

Karrim Jalali, Industrial Official for Equity added, “this was a different type of negotiation than unions typically face for collective agreements. ITC and its members with Ethical Manager Status actively stride to do as much as possible for the performer practitioner and creative workforces, and have consistently demonstrated their commitment to going above and beyond, both in engagements and in the negotiations for a revised agreement. It’s a breath of fresh air to be working with these principles at the heart of the negotiations, and we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved for our respective members despite the huge challenges imposed by the funding landscape. We hope that this will be a major influence on the industry as a whole. We’d like to say a sincere thank you to ITC and its Ethical Manager members who have worked so productively and fairly with us on these negotiations.”

Shenagh Govan, actor, Equity Councillor and member of Equity’s working party for negotiations, said, "I'm pleased to say that the whole process from consultation and preparing the claim to the negotiation itself has encapsulated the priorities and experiences of Equity members on ITC Ethical Manager productions, including mine. It was great to have such warm and productive negotiations with ITC and its Ethical Manager members, and I hope our members are delighted with the results."

Three cheers for Equity and ITC.