Are the EastEnders cast on zero-hours contracts? We investigate

Do the actors who play Kathy Beale and Max Branning get paid when they’re not on screen?

Television isn’t the most typical of industries. It is notorious for its revolving door and unpaid internships and is at least perceived to be one of the more dog-eat-dog sectors of business, where style matters over substance.

So when I heard, off the record, from someone in the industry that the cast of EastEnders were on zero-hours contracts, I was hardly surprised. After all, even TV stars are vulnerable to market forces.

But is it true?

On the face of it, it might seem like the case. Cast members do get paid based on how many episodes they’re appearing in and might not be required to come in to work for a couple of weeks if their character isn’t featured for a few episodes.

They’re also tied to the BBC and cannot do any other work without permission – even if they have the time to do so.

However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end, as I found out when I spoke to Cathy Sweet, who deals with contracts at actors’ union Equity. She said actors’ agents negotiate contracts on a three, six, 12 or occasionally 24-month basis.

“In everybody’s contract, their agent would negotiate a deal based on a number of episodes or amount of earnings per week, or for the entire year, and if it exceeds that they might get a top up. They’ll all get a minimum package that they’d be happy with for three or six months, for example.

“So it’s definitely not a zero hours contract at all,” she said.

According to Equity, cast members may not be guaranteed set hours, but they never end up with no income. All EastEnders cast members receive a minimum of £603 a week under an agreement between Equity and the BBC, whether they are appearing in episodes at that time or not. However, it’s not common for actors to be paid this little, even during a time they’re not prominently featured.

“I’d be surprised if an agent or member would accept work for only £603 a week if they’re working on EastEnders, unless they’re very new to the industry,” Sweet said.

She added the flexible contracts allow actors to rest between periods where they’re working a lot. “Some might not work for a couple of weeks, and others might be working a five day week with long hours but they try to make sure the actors are rotated, mostly from a health and safety point of view.”

However, it is true that when an actor has a role on EastEnders, their contract includes and exclusivity clause which means they’re not allowed to except work elsewhere without permission.

“They’re contracted to the BBC and would have to get permission to do anything else,” Sweet said.

“So some might go off and do panto, or something like that, as we know because we see they get released to do other things, but they have to get permission from the BBC first.”

A BBC spokesperson told LondonLovesBusiness: “We never discuss talent contracts. But all employees are contracted with-in the BBC Equity agreement and that does not include zero-hours contracts.”

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