Here, in the third of our series of advice columns for the business, Phil Kear, assistant general secretary of the Musicians' Union, explains how the organisation is easing the burden for members through this immensely challenging period...
The health and wellbeing of our members is the primary concern for the Musicians’ Union in this unprecedented time. Accordingly, we have set up a dedicated Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice hub, located on the public-facing area of our website.?
This advice hub was initially set up to signpost important government advice on travel and controlling the spread of the virus. We have since worked incredibly hard to ensure it is updated and expanded daily with detailed advice specific to affected sections of our membership, such as music teachers or musicians working in theatre, in response to queries we have received. It has also been bolstered with advice on insurance, legal and contractual matters and benefits available to MU members and other musicians in times of financial need.?
Whilst we are doing everything we can to ensure our members stay safe and healthy, it is clear that measures being taken to halt the spread of Coronavirus are likely to also seriously impact them financially. We have already seen the cancellation of several planned overseas orchestra tours, film recording sessions and gigs, whilst visiting music teachers are increasingly being asked not to attend their scheduled school lessons. If public gatherings are soon limited as predicted, this will mean further cancellations leaving our members, who are predominantly self-employed, with little or no employee benefits and no alternative income sources.
In this situation it is impossible to provide blanket advice but, as always, our staff are committed to working with employers and engagers to agree the best possible outcome for our members and, where appropriate, connecting them with independent legal experts able to advise them on their statutory and contractual rights. We are also offering advice, flexibility and support to engagers facing similar financial issues during this crisis and will continue to do so wherever possible.
We are currently looking at additional measures we can take to ease the burden on our members at this difficult time, either through our own benevolent fund or by highlighting other sources of assistance like Help Musicians UK or the Royal Society of Musicians.?
We are also lobbying the government to extend their financial support for self-employed musicians to help them through this crisis, and have had tentative confirmation from Arts Councils across the UK regarding redirection of funds to support creative talent whose employment is negatively affected by Coronavirus.?
This is not something the MU, or any other industry organisation can overcome alone. We have experienced unprecedented levels of interaction with other organisations across the music industry in the last two weeks.?
There is a real growing sense that collaboration will be required in order for the industry and all its varied constituents to come through this period unscathed. We are already offering considerably more flexibility to engagers affected by the crisis than we would under normal circumstances and will continue to offer every assistance for the foreseeable future.?
There is every hope that relationships and working methods established during this trying time will be taken forward to develop a stronger and healthier industry in the future. In addition, if nothing else, a spotlight is currently being held up to the true precarious nature of self-employment in the UK. We hope that any special measures achieved during this period to safeguard the working lives of self-employed musicians are retained, once the virus threat is behind us.