SIMON CURTIS FOR EQUITY
Vote for a secure future for our industry
Following a 15-year career as a professional singer, I have worked for Equity as National and Regional Organiser for Wales and South West England since 2012. Find out more about my background. I remain a proud member of Equity, first joining in 1997, because they were there when I needed them. I know that the greatest strength of our union rests with its members.
My experience working as a professional performer has given me a genuine insight into the reality of members’ working lives and how, as a union, Equity can serve and represent you better. Surviving the coronavirus crisis is a massive part of the many challenges ahead, but I know that together we can and will ensure that the Creative Industries survive and prosper in the changing world, well beyond the current crises.
I have the passion, experience and skills to deliver for all our members, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability or class in whatever roles they play in our industry.
A vote for me is a vote for evolution not a radical revolution, building on our growing, successful union. However, the union can serve you better and there is a need for considered, constructive change which is focused on your needs. I want to share with you what I believe our priorities should be, but your input will be central to this endeavour. These can be summarised as the need to:
- Rediscover our identity
- Rebuild our community
- Remain committed to fighting for the best Brexit
- Revitalise your working life
- Reap the rewards of social partnerships & cultural education
We must be ambitious working towards more effective communication with ALL members, non-activists and activists alike, developing greater transparency and access to the inner workings of the union. Above all we must, and I will, listen to members’ concerns: every member is important and must know they have an equal voice.
A vote for me is for a General Secretary for ALL members.
The current crisis
The reality of the Coronavirus crisis is that the future of our industry is uncertain. But we can take comfort and pride in how resilient and adaptive the creative workforce is. The barriers of digital engagement have been torn down and people have re-tasked their skills in a variety of ways already. We must make sure that when we return to normal that the new ‘normal’ is not what was acceptable before.
In the coming months and years Equity will face a number of challenges. We must fight for our values in recovery. We must be at the centre of positive changes for our members. Our Industry will look very different after the pandemic, but we cannot simply return to how it was. This extreme situation we find ourselves in has shown the importance and relevance of Equity: supporting our members in so many ways. We must, and will continue to support all our members, improving and protecting their interests, in the pursuit of work, in employment and, at the forefront, campaigning for greater opportunities.
At the time of writing, the UK is due to exit from the EU at the end of 2020. Whatever your views on Brexit, the aftermath and ramifications of that political decision will be felt by all of our members. Especially now, with the effects of the pandemic in mind, the uncertainty our members face must be addressed, and we must continue to hold the government to account.
Inequality and intolerance both within the union and the industry must be eliminated. We must make it central to our DNA as a union that we deliver for all our members, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability or class in whatever roles they play in our industry.
Simon was born in Hertfordshire. On leaving school in 1986 he went to work in the City of London, where he was employed in the insurance industry. He always wanted to be a professional singer and while working as a business analyst he performed as an amateur in more than 50 plays, music theatre and opera productions over a 10-year period, as well as stage managing and being music director for many others. In 1996 he turned professional.
He has performed with many of the leading opera companies, including Glyndebourne, English Touring Opera [ETO], D’Oyly Carte and The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Until 2012 he was a member of Welsh National Opera [WNO], with whom he performed and understudied many roles, some of which were broadcast on S4C and the BBC. His solo concert work was extensive, including appearances at the Royal Albert Hall; Queen Elizabeth Hall; St John’s, Smith Square; Symphony Hall, Birmingham; The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; the Royal Centre, Nottingham and many other venues across the UK and Europe. He has also worked professionally as a conductor, animateur, vocal coach, vocal arranger and orchestrator.
Simon’s early steps into activism were with his family. His parents were both involved in local campaigns for residents’ rights. At the age of 12 he campaigned for his father to become a local councillor.
Throughout his professional career he has stood up and represented his colleagues. He served as Equity Deputy at ETO and Glyndebourne; for most of his time at WNO he served as Deputy, Chorus and Committee Chair, sometimes both. The latter responsibilities included leading on three separate negotiations that covered the writing of a brand-new agreement in 2003 with its subsequent revisions in 2008 and 2011/12. He also represented members in various disputes, including grievances and disciplinary hearings, and, as an Equity activist facing up to a major arts organisation, regularly dealt with, and held his own with senior management and board members.
He joined the staff of Equity as National and Regional Organiser for Wales and the South West in 2012. His remit covers staff recruitment and management, industrial negotiation in television and theatre, recruitment and retention, political lobbying, legal casework and representing Equity on the Wales TUC General Council.
As part of industrial negotiation, he leads on the union's negotiations with TAC, which is the industry body for Independent TV producers in Wales; he was responsible for putting in place the first Equity Fringe Agreement outside of London, with The Other Room in Cardiff. Simon continues as Equity negotiator on the House Agreement at WNO for the Full Time Chorus, Extra Chorus and Stage Management team.
His role as National Organiser requires giving leadership on Equity’s political engagement with the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government. In the last eight years he has given written and verbal evidence to Assembly Committees on a broad spectrum of matters that concern the Creative Industries, including Devolution of Broadcasting, The Future of S4C, Film and Television Production in Wales and the BBC Charter Review.
Within Equity’s democratic structure, alongside responsibility for five General and two Variety branches, he serves as Secretary to the Welsh National Committee, the Singers Committee and the Annual Representative Conference Working Party.
Simon currently lives in Cardiff with his wife Chloe and their two children Millie and Noah; their patience, love and support give him an extraordinary resolve to make the world a better place. He still flexes his vocal cords when time allows – which is not often. He remains a proud member of Equity because they were there when he needed them, and he knows that the greatest strength of our union rests with its members.
“I believe Simon’s former career as a professional performer and his excellent work as a senior Organiser at Equity make him the best candidate to be the union’s next General Secretary. He is one of us and he will fight for us.” Miriam Margolyes
“As a former Honorary Treasurer of Equity, I am keenly aware of the importance of proven management of people and good judgment that the role of General Secretary requires. Simon has this experience through his current role as Equity National Organiser, where he supports members in the wide variety of sectors they work in. His 15 years as a performer give him a genuine insight into what our members need. He’s the man to trust with Equity’s future in these uncertain times.” Lord Michael Cashman CBE Actor. Co-founder of Stonewall
Simon is grateful for the wide-spread support from across the industry he has received. Here is a list of some of those supporters.
Michael Cashman CBE, former Equity Honorary Treasurer, co-founder of Stonewall
Rosamund Shelley, Chair International Committee for Artists Freedom
Memet Ali Alabora, Founding President Actor’s Union of Turkey
Jean Rogers, former Equity Vice President and member of Equity Women’s Committee and the TUC’s Women’s Committee
Freddie Pyne, former Equity President
David Cockayne, former Equity Vice President
Xander Black, Equity South West Area Councillor
Lorne Boswell, Equity National Organiser for Scotland and Northern Ireland
Ayvianna Snow, Branch Secretary Equity West and South West London General Branch
Caron Reidy Committee Member, Equity Online Branch and Welsh National Committee
Christopher Batten, Chair Equity Welsh National Committee
Abbie Hirst, Vice-Chair Equity Welsh National Committee
Chris Gallarus, Branch Secretary Dorset General Branch
Chris Ryde, former Equity National and Regional Organiser, Wales and the South West
David Richey, Chair Devon and Cornwall General Branch
Gareth Dafydd Morris, Deputy Welsh National Opera
Jeremi Cockram Committee Member, Equity Welsh National Committee
Marie Kelly, Branch Secretary, Kent General Branch – Vice-Chair, Equity Singers Committee
Martyn Harrison – Chair, Essex General Branch, Committee Member, Equity Singers Committee
Nigel Howells Vice Chair, Equity Devon and Cornwall General Branch
Noah Huntley Committee Member, Dorset General Branch
Russell Painter Committee Member, Equity Singers Committee
Sharon Morgan Committee Member, Welsh National Committee
Steve Purbrick Committee Member, Welsh National Committee
Terry Victor Committee Member, Welsh National Committee, Online Branch Committee and ICAF
Tom Emlyn Williams, Chair Equity Singers Committee
James Hamilton Welsh
Linda Rifkind, Branch Secretary Scotland Variety Branch
Marilyn Le Conte
Rediscover our identity How many of our members actually understand what a member-led trade union is? Not enough. We must actively improve our communication and engagement with the many members who feel left out of what Equity should be and stand for. At a time when the industry is reeling from the effects of global events, we must focus our effort so that the union is united, on message, focused and engaged. Find out more.
Rebuild our community We need to reflect on our own structures and rebuild our community. We must examine whether our formal organisation acts as a barrier to groups, such as branches, being genuine communities. Why are members not more engaged at the grassroots? Find out more.
Remain committed to fighting for the best Brexit I passionately believe that we should have remained in the EU because of the real damage leaving will make to members working lives. But it is clear we need to accept the result. What we do not have to accept is the worst possible Brexit, so we need to keep fighting for: Freedom of Movement, Funding, Worker’s Rights and a possible postponement as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out more.
Revitalise your working life Equity’s membership has been growing, but work is becoming more insecure, low paid and precarious. The trade union movement needs to Inform the country as a whole – workers and their families, employees, shareholders and government – that trade unions are not the enemy but essential for everyone to thrive. Find out more.
Reap the rewards of social partnerships & cultural education We must work with governments across the UK to eradicate socio-economic disadvantage, to reduce the inequalities of outcome, and increase social justice – fundamentally bringing fairer working conditions. Equity must also tackle the damage that is being done to the arts by the lack of clarity and structure in cultural education in schools. Find out more.
Rediscover our identity
Who is Equity? The short answer is, all of us: Equity is a member-led union. However, I imagine that the vast majority of those not active within the democratic structure of the union would answer the staff, led by the General Secretary. Before I became an activist within Equity that was probably my answer too. The staff, of course, are a vital part of how the union operates, but they are there to facilitate the policies set by the members as well as servicing the interests of members.
How many of our members actually understand how a member-led Union works? I would estimate that the answer is: not many. We must actively improve our communication and engagement with the uninformed and, sometimes, disenfranchised members. We must improve our communications with non-members working in the Creative Industries too. To those ends, we need to develop a greater transparency and access to the inner workings of the union. The staff and members should work together on common objectives reflecting the views and priorities of ALL members. Above all we must, and I will, listen to members’ concerns: every member is important and must know they have an equal voice.
How do we engage with members who choose not to go to branch meetings, vote in elections, sit on committees or read newsletters and the magazine?
How can we answer the concerns of people who choose to leave the union? And what about those who see no point in joining?
We must find the time to shout about our successes, so that everyone hears, and everyone takes notice. If people are not engaging with the current communication channels, how can the message get out and how do we move forward?
The membership is Equity. All members, not just the activists, need to be our ambassadors in and out of the workplace. To do that all members need to have confidence when advocating on behalf of their union.
We must take public pride in the achievements of our union. We need everyone to hear, not just members, but the wider population; the consumers of what all of us in the Creative Industries help to make. Try arguing the need for the BBC and the continued licence fee with someone who doesn’t know about the industry. This is about education and communication that reaches everyone, and the union has a crucial role to play in the process; we have a vested interest. It may be that your particular work does not see you working for the BBC, but being a part of the membership of a union is not about one membership category against another, or one being prioritised over another, but an attack on one is an attack on all. We stand together
It is regrettable that we still have to correct commentators that Equity is not just the Actors union - and often this criticism comes from our own members who see the union putting resources into areas other than where they might wish. We must communicate and engage better. Easier said than done but that is what I am working towards.
I fully appreciate that the resources and time of a relatively small union are stretched – I have had that ‘lived experience’ as a member and as a member of staff. I believe that we can do more to expand the work we do cross-party and cross-union, together with likeminded politicians and the TUC and FEU, finding ways to work more collaboratively. Too often we find sections of the industry reinventing the wheel when a properly wheeled vehicle already exists. At a time when resources are limited, and the industry is reeling from the effects of national and global events, we must find a way to marshal them effectively and uniformly so that the union is united, on message, focused and engaged.
Rebuild our community
We need to be reflective and look at our own processes, our own community. We must look at our grass roots and ask whether the existing formal structures act as barriers to these being genuine communities? Do the General and Variety Branches struggle for their own relevancy in a changing industry? Should we simply have branches? Engagement with the union, including the democratic structure, must start from these grass roots. We need to build and promote the collective nature of membership. It must be about more than individual corners of the industry. We are merely perpetuating the lack of society if we don’t have better communities within our structure and the wider trade union movement.
We need to accelerate the existing branch review and implement its findings. But along with our work on engagement and communication we need to speak to those members who do not go to their local branches. They are the people who will have the greatest input into any improvement in our democratic structure. These are the people who are not active in our branch community and we need to reach out beyond the activists and really listen to what they have to say. What you have to say.
I believe we need a geographical audit of the reach and accessibility of branches. We must make sure that there is a branch within easy reach of as many people as possible – distance should not be an obstacle to engagement. We must also find a workable solution to branches being able to identify and communicate with their members. It is vitally important that members should also be able to engage with the grass roots of the union, either physically or remotely, however it suits them best.
Remain committed to fighting for the best Brexit
I am not seeking to re-open the debate: however you voted we have to respect the result. However, I regularly get questions from some members as to why Equity is still ‘going on about it’. ‘Brexit is done – Boris said he was going to get it done and he delivered’. We simply can’t dismiss these views as wrong and therefore irrelevant, we have to look at what we as Equity, and the wider trade union movement can do to bring our communities back together, provide help and education, and accept that we have now left. We also have to ask the question, what happens next?
It is critical that we continue to demand answers surrounding questions of:
- Freedom of Movement
- Worker’s Rights
- Avoiding No-Deal
- A possible postponement, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic
- Surrounding the question of the question of a border on the island of Ireland, or down the Irish Sea
Continuing to ask these questions until we get answers and are being provided with workable solutions is not trying to stop or frustrate Brexit or the democratic process – it is the union doings its job in advocating on behalf of its members’ professional requirements. If it doesn’t affect your area of the industry that does not make it any less relevant to others within membership who need your support and help. The cliché #StrongerTogether is overused sometimes but on the subject of the aftermath of Brexit we have to come together with one common, well-informed voice.
The overarching point here is that our members need to be better informed. We will rise to the challenge and be better going forward.
A union is the sum of all its parts; in that respect Equity is no different to any other trade union. Our members bring with them many points of view; the task at hand is to represent both the needs of the individual, the requirements of the majority and all the while stay within the rule of law.
If the trade union movement cannot unify over a consistent message, and not be seen fighting, either between themselves or internally, then members and more importantly the wider population will not see the union movement as a benefit and be led by history and preconception rather than fact.
With the rise of the far right and the resistance to scrutiny driven and nurtured by central government, we do have to look at the collective social amnesia which pitches communities and families against each other, often uninformed about the actual truth. The union movement has a role in trying to repair these divisions – if we do not do it, I’m not sure who else is going to try and find a way forward.
Revitalise your working life
Equity enters a new decade with record numbers of members. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the period
during which more members have joined has not seen an increase in the percentage of members ‘in work’, despite the
increases in terms and conditions achieved by the union over that time.
The current government continues to work against the trade union movement, believing that there is no such thing as society and that only individual people can sort out their own problems out. But an attack on one is an attack on us all. We see work become more insecure, low paid and precarious. We have seen the difficulties that unions face trying to organise in the new gig economy, and we know that the government believe in and desire the absence of the collective voice of working people. The role of a trade union and being a trade unionist is critical now more than ever.
The trade union movement needs to Inform the country as a whole – workers and their families, employees, shareholders and government – that trade unions are not the enemy. They are, and should be, recognised as contributors. We have to challenge some of the right-wing press and demonstrate that trade unions should be seen as an asset, not a liability. Trade unions are essential to business not only as workers but as consumers.
In 2013, when the union last surveyed its membership on earnings within the creative industries, the results found that the vast majority earnt less than £5,000 from the industry. But for those members, the 98% of the industry who identify as ‘jobbing professionals’, this is not just about pay and conditions. It is about:
- Dignity at work and in the process of finding work – being treated with respect at all stages of the creative process
- A safe environment free of bullying and harassment of any kind – creating Safe Spaces and improving wider workplace practices.
- A desire to promote better equality and diversity at work, in society and in portrayal front and centre
- An industry that promotes better physical and mental health with the union leading on policy development, campaigning and lobbying around these issues.
- Access to work with decent pay.
Members are central to the democratic life of trade unions. Across the UK, for 1 in 4 workers, the terms and conditions are set by trade union negotiation. Whilst we could argue that it is significantly higher in the creative industries, there is still work to be done, despite the herculean efforts of staff across the union working with the industrial committees to make real changes to peoples working lives. But this often finds us being more reactive than proactive. We only have to look at the problems which have surfaced recently concerning Immersive Theatre to know that there will always be some sort of challenge as the industry continues to grow and adapt. The current lockdown and rush to be creative in the digital space has itself identified exploitation and difficulties – our industry doesn’t stay still for long.
Union membership across the UK continues to grow. The latest figures available show that in 2018 there were 6.3 million trade union members in the UK – 100,000 up on previous year. But that is nowhere near the 1979 high of 13 million. Equity has again proven itself to be robust in this area with an almost consistent rise in members over the last 15 years.
Equity is again ahead of the curve in how it organises around the gig economy because the Creative Industries have always been made up of these short-term engagements. The work that we have been able to do around Mental Health provision for freelancers is seen by other unions as incredibly far advanced – Equity is organising outside of a permanent workplace and making a difference.
Equity is also finding itself more relevant with younger members. There is no such thing as an average Equity member, but the average age is 28: that fact flies in the face of the rest of the movement that struggles to recruit and organise younger members. The student talks done by Equity staff teaches the importance of being a member of a trade union during training, and then we see these graduates as they enter the industry with an Equity card in their pocket and some engagement with the wider movement. We need to be relevant throughout their working life, retaining their membership based on relevance rather than a sense of duty.
The continued need to be relevant is vital and the union must be seen to be organising and winning victories for the members not just in workplaces but in the wider industry and communities. Ultimately the primary role of a union is to improve wider workplace practices and we must keep this at the forefront of our thinking.
This is achieved to some extent by the union’s policies around organising for success, but we need to maintain focus on Campaigning, Organising and cross-party political work. We also need to nurture the branch community and training and educational work we do.
Unions must continue to adapt and modernise; this is essential if we are to be of continuing relevance to our members.
Reap the rewards of social partnerships & cultural education
In my current role within the union I work closely with the Welsh Government, both directly and through being a member of the Wales TUC General Council, and I do perhaps have a slightly different view of what can be achieved. Whilst it is a Labour-led government in Wales it is a Labour-led administration without a majority: it does not have a sharing agreement with the other parties but there is a common sense of purpose when it looks at a better way of working, specifically working with unions. The role of Social Partnership is not only being championed but there was a hope that it would be legislated for before the end of this assembly term in 2021. Unfortunately, this legislation has been shelved while the focus is on recovery from Covid-19 but a draft bill will be published to provide the manifesto roadmap for the administration that follows.
The message is being promoted that workers, through their unions, should have a voice in discussions that will have an impact on their working lives. Promoting a fair work nation and tackling inequality and intolerance.
There should be a strong social dialogue focused on the key elements of social partnership
- All discussions should be tripartite – Government / Union / Employers
- All discussions should be representative – a source for collective voices
- All discussions and decisions should be accountable
The way to achieve this is through legislation to increase collective bargaining and to provide better access for the unions in industries and workplaces.
Equity can already demonstrate that it is ahead on Social Partnership – the creative industries have already seen the benefits of industry standard agreements across the UK and these are the envy of many other industries. I firmly believe that Equity should be championing this with other unions as a model that will bring benefits to industries. The challenge we face is that this would require the promotion of society and collectiveness which is at odds with the current government’s ethos of every person for themselves.
Welsh Government has also been Consulting on a change to the Equality Act within Wales: Socio-Economic Duty. Wales already has a Well Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. This act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.
This Socio-Economic Duty has lain dormant in the statute book as it was not enacted by Westminster Government in 2010
but the Wales Act 2017 devolved power to commence socio-economic duty. We must work with governments across the UK
to eradicate socio-economic disadvantage, to reduce the inequalities of outcome, and increase social justice –
fundamentally bringing fairer working conditions.
I see what is happening in Wales as a potential model for what can be achieved in the nations and regions.
Equity must also tackle the damage that is being done to the arts by the lack of clarity and structure in cultural education in the curriculum. This impacts on both future generations of workers and also arts-consumers/audiences. Appreciating the importance of the arts and the huge benefits of the transferable skills must not be lost by it becoming an opt-in subject, only being available to those that can afford to pay for it. In Wales the new national curriculum has an Expressive Arts section which is one of the key cornerstones of education for all. It is understood that exploring the expressive arts is essential to developing artistic skills and knowledge and it enables learners to become curious and creative individuals.
Equity might not have the capacity to do all this alone but that is the benefit of having a seat at the table with the TUC and working collaboratively on a shared agenda with other unions and our members. Members need to see that being a member of the union is about more than pay and conditions – engagement on the other challenges and an accessible demonstration of what the union is doing can only be of benefit to all.