Drafted by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the letter is part of a national union campaign in support of the sector’s workers.
While many employees in the arts and entertainment industry are ruled ineligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy program because of the short-term, casual or freelance nature of their work, those who work for public-sector agencies are also disqualified.
“As a result of the restrictions on public gatherings, our state’s theatres and entertainment venues are shuttered and over a thousand of us are now out of work,” the open letter to Premier and Arts Minister Steven Marshall says.
“Workers in our sector already face challenges because the nature of our work is largely contract to contract or as casuals. Now we have been left behind by the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme, simply because we are employed by a public sector agency.
“At the Adelaide Festival Centre, the heart of the Arts in South Australia, several hundred workers are now vulnerable and unable to pay for their basic living expenses.”
The open letter states that the workers help ensure the centre functions as a “focal point of artistic excellence and entertainment, which gives credence to South Australia’s deserved reputation as the ‘Festival State’”, adding: “As the Arts Minister, we urge you to act with immediacy to make sure that we are not forgotten.”
The MEAA’s SA branch secretary, Angelique Ivanica, told InDaily its campaign was working in some states, with the Northern Territory, for example, creating a kind of “mini JobKeeper” to sustain the income of arts and entertainment workers. But in South Australia, she said, “it’s just a no”.
Ivanica said many casuals had been working at the Adelaide Festival Centre for years in roles ranging from front-of-house and ticketing, to production. They had now been left with no income – “and of course there’s nowhere else they can go”.
“This is an area we believe that, as Arts Minister, Steven Marshall should be focusing on to see what can be done to help these people… we are the Festival State all year round, not just at Fringe and Festival time.”
Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and artistic director Douglas Gautier confirmed that around 200 of its regular casual staff have been without work since all theatres had to close on March 17, and the contracts of 10 full and part-time employees have not been renewed.
He told InDaily that most of the centre’s around 130 remaining full-time and part-time staff had agreed to a reduced working week, “volunteering to take two days leave without pay”. It was hoped this would steer the venue through the tough period and protect as many jobs as possible.
“Adelaide Festival Centre generates between 60 – 70 percent of annual operating revenues from ticket sales, venue hire and commercial activities that depend on audiences being in the venue – when those are non-existent, organisations like ours take a huge hit,” he said. “To date, 45 shows have been postponed or cancelled.
“Adelaide Festival Centre has also registered for the Federal Government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy but understand our status as an agency of the State Government of South Australia makes us ineligible.
“As South Australia’s major arts centre, we look forward to being ready for when audiences can safely reunite, and be entertained again. And of course this will hopefully mean that there will be work for people right across our sector.”
Asked for comment on the MEAA open letter and the ineligibility of workers for JobKeeper, a Marshall spokesperson said the Premier had raised the issue with the National Cabinet and would “continue to work with the Commonwealth on ensuring support measures meet the needs of as many South Australians as possible”.
In a recent letter to those in the arts sector, Premier Marshall noted that in response to high levels of demand, the State Government had increased its targeted arts support package from $1.5 to $2.5 million, which is available mostly through grants for artists and arts organisations. “I acknowledge this is a severely challenging time for everyone in the arts and culture sector, but I am committed to ensuring South Australia gets through this crisis with the best outcomes possible – ready to bounce back stronger than before,” he wrote
InDaily reported earlier this month that Adelaide Venue Management Corporation – a publicly-owned corporation that runs the Entertainment Centre, Convention Centre and Coopers Stadium – was understood to have lobbied the State Government over the compensation arrangements for its 850 casual employees, after it emerged government enterprises were ineligible for the JobKeeper program.