A union representing film crew workers is struggling to attract members as some raise fears of being ‘blacklisted’ by employers.

“The hesitation to join is real, unfortunately, but we are working on it,” said Martin Bonnici, who helped set up representation for the largely unregulated sector last year.  

Towards the end of 2021, Bonnici, best known for directing the film adaptation of Alex Vella Gera’s novel, Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi, along with six other creatives teamed up with the General Workers’ Union to form a committee to safeguard the rights of those working in the film, theatre and television sector and to regulate the industry. 

Film sector workers have complained in recent months of not getting paid and having other disputes with employers. 

Bonnici had been trying to set up a union for crew members and creatives for years but members of the industry feared they would lose work or be ‘blacklisted’ if they joined a union.

The film director said fear of retribution by employers was dissipating. However, workers in the industry have told Times of Malta it is still a very real concern.  

He said there were currently 36 members in the union. 

According to NSO figures, up until October 2021, there were some 400 people directly employed in the sector. However, there are a further 1,000 working in related activity. 

Despite the low number of members, Bonnici is optimistic that more will sign up soon.

He explained how joining a union is new for those in the film industry, especially since members have been discouraged to do so in the past. 

“It’s a cultural thing. For example, when you study to become an educator, you are bombarded with messages to join a union, or when you join a bank, you are informed about your choices to join a union. Working in the film industry is very different but that is changing slowly too,” he said. 

Bonnici said he receives messages from workers and artists asking if they are eligible to join the committee and how it works. He also noted how members who joined also encouraged their team or employees to sign up too.

“The blacklisting fear is reducing with time and change.”

Even though the numbers are small, the committee is already seeing an impact. He recalls how members of the committee started working on a particular production, yet they were not happy with the contract they were given. 

 “At first, I told them to discuss it with the production team and,  if nothing changes, the union will be involved. They managed to modify the contract without involving the union whatsoever,” he said. 

Bonnici said this shows how being part of a union has given people the strength to speak up and feel they have the support and backing of the committee. 

“It’s just a matter of time, I think by the end of this year we are projecting that we will have a very strong three-figure number.”

Bonnici said he has also received positive feedback from the authorities, including the Film Commission. 

“The commissioner believes it is a good step forward for the industry and will help to understand what happens on the ground.”

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