The iconic sitcom Neighbours will end production next week after 37 years, but the long-serving staff behind it claims that the production company Fremantle has failed to pay them redundancy.
The Australian serial, which launched the worldwide careers of a slew of local celebrities like Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Margot Robbie, and Guy Pearce, was cancelled earlier this year after Channel 5 in the United Kingdom said it would no longer buy it. After failing to find a new British broadcaster to share the cost of producing the show, it was announced that it will be cancelled — but staff members, including one who has worked on the show from its inception, claim they have been treated unfairly.
“They’ve recently had Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan come over to shoot scenes, which is terrific,” said Paul Stanley, an organiser with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union.
“That’s great, but you have people on staff who took eight weeks off last year to’save the programme.'” You say you can’t afford to pay us redundancy, but you’re investing in talent.”
Since 2008, Channel 5 has mostly funded Neighbours, which has been broadcast by Channel 10 and produced by Fremantle in Australia, with the residents of Ramsay Street getting more viewers in the UK than in their home country.
Several times in the last few months, Neighbours union delegates met with Fremantle executives to discuss the “devastating impact of the show’s cancellation on long-serving crew,” which includes casting directors, costume designers, directors, location managers, makeup artists, researchers, screenwriters, set designers, and producers.
According to union sources, Fremantle maintains that the workers are contractors, not employees, and hence are not entitled to the same benefits as regular employees, despite the fact that their contracts have been carried over year after year.
Despite working through the pandemic, the cast and crew of Neighbours were instructed to stand down without pay for eight weeks last year to “rescue the programme” when it became uncertain where the financing would come from.
Donovan and Minogue, who played Scott and Charlene on the sitcom in the 1980s, will return for the show’s 30th anniversary in August.
“Under the guise of rolling ‘fixed-term’ contracts, Fremantle is attempting to evade payment to workers who have been devoted to the production, in some cases for decades,” the union told members in a message after the show was cancelled.
“In response, the firm has extended a deadline it had set for crews to accept lesser payments in order to give them more time to negotiate.” Members will continue to collaborate in the coming weeks to guarantee that they receive their dues.
“This week, Fremantle announced a 25% growth in revenue to $2.9 billion in 2021, adding significantly to parent firm RTL Group’s record earnings.”
Channel 5, which is controlled by the American media conglomerate Paramount, is also expecting record earnings as a result of the recent surge in viewing. Following the success of shows like the revival of All Creatures Great and Small, it decided to reallocate its budget toward more original programming, and said the redundancy terms were an issue for the production company: “Neighbours is produced by Fremantle Australia, and we are unable to comment on their HR matters.”
“Some of us have been here for 30-odd years and they’re just stating that they’re not recognising the service,” one crew member who has worked on the Neighbours set on and off for three decades said he was disappointed in Fremantle.
“They constantly make it seem like we’re all part of the family on Neighbours, but when the programme comes to an end, which is obviously terrible, they just turn around and say, ‘Well, you’re not entitled to any benefits.'” As a result, it’s a little discouraging and disheartening.”
Greg Woods, the chief executive of Fremantle Australia, did not respond to queries from Guardian Australia, but stated the firm had met its legal requirements.
“We will not be releasing a comprehensive remark at this time to ensure the wellbeing of our cast and crew, who are our top concern, and with just over one week left of production,” Woods stated. “In addition, we do not comment on HR-related concerns as a matter of business policy.”
“However, I can state that we’ve consulted outside counsel to ensure that we give the appropriate help and that we fully comply with our commitments and meet everyone’s legal entitlements.”
“As the production approaches next Friday, our emphasis is and will continue to be to support the well-being of our actors and crew.”
According to Stanley, the crew members range in experience from seven to ten years, with one crew member referring to himself as “Patient Zero Neighbours” because he’s been there since the beginning – “essentially your entire working life.”
“If they’d been there more than 12 months on top of long-service leave and their yearly leave paid out, they were initially offered a four-week’special leave termination,'” Stanley added.
“We spoke with Fremantle and were able to extend it to eight weeks for some folks, which is helpful.” Employees who have worked for the company for nine years are entitled to 16 weeks of redundancy, but they are only getting eight.”
While some employees have accepted the arrangement, others have refused, claiming that “it’s not fair, it’s not right,” according to Stanley. “They want to see better treatment for film crews in the industry.”
… we have a tiny request. Every day, millions of people come to the Guardian for open, independent, and high-quality news, and we now have readers in 180 countries.
We think that everyone has a right to knowledge based on science and truth, as well as analysis based on authority and honesty. That’s why we took a different approach: we made the decision to make our reporting accessible to all readers, regardless of where they reside or how much they can afford to pay. More people will be better informed, united, and inspired to take meaningful action as a result of this.
A truth-seeking global news organisation like the Guardian is critical in these frightening times. Because we don’t have any shareholders or a rich owner, our journalism is free of commercial and political influence, which sets us apart. Our independence empowers us to investigate, challenge, and expose people in power at a time when it has never been more critical.