Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 #coronavirus #WithMEAA News
MEAA Online

Screenshots of MEAA members who took part in an online day of action on April 2 to lobby for support for the arts sector and the extension of the JobKeeper program.

A message to all members from Chief Executive Paul Murphy from MEAA’s 2019-20 Annual Report.

It is no understatement to say that in 2019-20 our union has been confronted with the biggest challenge in its long history. But I am confident that we will one day be able to look back and say that how we dealt with this challenge was our proudest moment.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc and destruction through the arts, entertainment and media industries.

What we initially hoped might be an interruption for a couple of months at

most will now occupy all of 2020 and a good part of 2021.

The impact has been profound and debilitating. Live entertainment venues have closed. TV and film productions have shut down. Entire seasons and major events and festivals have been cancelled.

Allied workplaces, from ticket-sellers to post-production facilities, have had no work.

In the media sector, already stricken by more than a decade of cuts, lay-offs and write-downs, we have seen more than 100 regional, rural and community mastheads cease operations, and newsrooms and broadcasting operations cut back at television and radio stations around the country as advertising revenues have plummeted due to the pandemic.

The raw figures are confronting. Between March and May, 33,400 jobs were lost in the industries where MEAA members work, representing almost one in three jobs in the creative and performing arts, motion picture and sound recording, and publishing sectors.

Those are just the official government statistics; anecdotally, we know the impact has been even worse. In May, more than two-thirds of the 1000 MEAA members who responded to our coronavirus survey told us that they had no paid work; three in five had no significant income; and about one in three were relying on JobKeeper or JobSeeker to survive.

COVID has also had a significant impact on the operations and financial position of MEAA, but while every union is in the same boat with the scale of these challenges, we are fortunate to have entered the crisis from a position of stability.

I am confident that when our industries get to the other side, we will emerge as a stronger union with greater engagement than when we entered it. In fact, MEAA has been one of the few unions in Australia to grow its membership during the pandemic.

One of the first actions taken by the MEAA Board when public health restrictions were introduced in March was to offer all members in financial hardship a two-month fee waiver, which has since been extended twice.

About 2500 members, or about 15 per cent of our membership, have taken up this option. While this has resulted in a reduction in membership income, it has ensured members who have lost work are able to stay in the union and draw on our support when needed.

In April, we also introduced a special membership offer for workers in financial hardship of two months membership at the cost of just one week’s worth of fees.

We have recruited about 250 new members with this offer.

MEAA’s sound balance sheet has been crucial to weathering the crisis. Even after the impact of the fee waivers, we ended the 2019-20 financial year with a reasonable surplus of $752,101 and, along with underlying reserves, this will help sustain the union even though we are projecting substantial deficits over the next two years.

When the economy does eventually begin to bounce back from the recession triggered by the pandemic, and members are able to resume their careers in the creative and performing arts and screen industries, our finances will also begin to recover from this substantial hit.

I am immensely proud of the way MEAA’s staff have dealt with the pandemic.

Collectively, they have pulled together to ensure that MEAA members have been provided with every support and assistance that has been possible.

Most of our staff have been working remotely since March. Unable to organise in the traditional manner of workplace visits, our staff have embraced technology and perfected new ways of engaging with members that will serve as a model for the future. In just a few months, due to necessity, our digital capacity has increased exponentially and we will not look back.

Most of all, I am proud of MEAA’s 15,000 members who have shown remarkable resilience and spirit in the face of adversity and who have looked after each other and provided the shelter of a community during dark times.

Our members have led some incredible campaigns during 2020 and we have uncovered a new generation of leaders, with the result that we now have a more active and engaged union than at any time in our recent history.