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4 hour call.

Harry McBeal

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I often work at a venue who have recently implemented a 4 hour call... or so I thought.


My interpretation of the 4 hour call is (and has always been) that it is of course a minimum call and also a minimum payment whether you work the four hours or not.


The venue in question have just refused to pay two crew members for a 4 hour call because they only actually worked for about an hour and a half, and have been told they're being paid their usual hourly rate.


Am I right in thinking that the 4 hour call is what I think it is? The venue's refusal to pay it is making me doubt that now.


Thanks in advance,



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If the venue's agreement is to pay a minimum four-hour call for the first call of a working day, then that's what they must pay regardless of whether or not an employee was sent home before the end of those four hours. As long as the venue follows the BECTU/TMA agreement, there's also the "cancellation of a call" clause that would come into play should a call be terminated early - if an employee has been called for work and that call is cancelled at less than 24 (in the case of a casual) hours' notice, the employer should be making a cancellation payment of four hours' pay at the appropriate rate. Ending a call early is, to my mind, no different to cancelling the call at less than 24 hours' notice.
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There seems little point calling it a 'four hour call', if it just a call at a designated start time, and ends when the work is done. No-TMA venues I work don't have set call periods, just a start time and pay is usually calculated by the half hour. Even in these venues, if the crew were given a 4 hour call, it seems reasonable to expect 4 hour payment - after all they could just as well call it a half-day call. At least they won't get away with it again, as nobody presumably will believe it next time!
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I always expect to be paid for the time I was booked for, not for the actual hours worked (unless the hours worked are longer than the original call) as otherwise I would have no idea if I wanted to do the work or not - eg if I am offered two jobs, or it will cost me to get there. I have never worked anywhere that hasn't abided by this idea.


The fact is that your terms for attending that day were based on four hours pay, so it is not your issue if they called you for the wrong amount of time. I would expect that you would actually have some legal grounds to claim that money from them but I don't know how that would work.

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I've never heard of a 4 hour call being defined as being you'll be paid for at least 4 hours even if you work less. As somebody said, what's the point of mentioning 4 hours at all if they're only going to pay for hours worked.


I'm sure this is an idea beloved of accountants but, frankly, nobody in their right mind is going to want to accept a job where there's the chance you many only be paid for an hour or two. After all, the "overheads" of getting to that job (transport etc.) are the same whether you work for 1 or 10 hours. In the past I've had problems getting qualified people to work on even a half day/4 hour call since it can be barely worth the expense and hassle...and messes up your ability to take on a full-day job.



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3.3.1 Basic Hours

A maximum of 39 hours between 9.00am and 11.00pm within any 5 of the 6 weekdays.

The minimum call for duty shall be 4 hours and the maximum hours in the day payable at

single time shall be 10. Resumption or continuation of work, including stipulated breaks,

shall not constitute a new call.


Taken directly from the BECTU/TMA agreement, 2004 copy.


If your venue subscribes to this agreement, and it is very easy to find out, just ask someone, then the minimum payment for work is 4 hours at the rate prescribed for the day.


Even more so, should you be called at 10-12 for work, then take a break till 1, resuming duties for a matinee show, then returning to work for the evening show, then you are entitled to 12 hours pay.


The first call of the day in this instance is a minimum call, then the second two calls are performance calls, again based on a four hour block.


On the other hand, should you be called from 10-12 then 1-6 for work, you are only due 7 hours pay, as no pefrormances or rehearsals are involved. According to the TMA you are not to be paid less than 4 hours for anything you do, but you are not always paid in four hour blocks.


If your venue does operate under this agreement and you are being denied a four hour call for the first call of the day, then contact your union representatives. Assuming you are a union member of course, which, if you work in a venue under this agreement, it is very likely you will be, as another condition of the agreement is this:



1.8.1 The Manager will display in the Theatre in places frequented by the staff a notice in the form

set out hereunder.



An Agreement has been reached between the Theatrical Management Association Ltd and

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union. Among other things, this

Agreement provides for the settlement of all disputes between the Employees and the

Management. It protects the mutual interests of the Management and the Employees and one

of its provisions is the agreement by the Management to employ subject to certain agreed

exceptions members of the Union and to recommend non-Members of the Union to join.

The Management of this Theatre in accordance with that Agreement, strongly recommends

all employees who are not members of the Union to become members thereof’.


Which is another clue as to whether or not you are working under this agreement...


Hope this helps.

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Thanks for the input folks.


I should aplogise for not stating earlier that the venue isn't a BECTU or TMA venue.


I also agree that if the venue agree to pay a 4 hour call and then don't honour it; it makes the idea of the 4 hour call pointless.


The situation particulary affects one of the crew who's on minimum wage, and he's told me he's definitely going to ask in advance how many hours he's booked for next time and have this confirmed to him in writing by the technical manager. Also if it's a short call he's now more likely to say he's not available as it may not be worth his time to do it.



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I think in this situation, you need to establish the terms and conditions of your employment. Even if you are not shown it as a casual, the venue should have a policy. If there is something that is written down that says you will be paid a minimum of four hours for a call then you stand a better chance of arguing.


Talk to your local BECTU rep. Even if the venue isn't a BECTU/TMA house they will still be able to advise you.

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I'd check your contract/get your friends to look at theirs, stuff like this is usually written down in them... Or at least it is in the ones for the venues I casual at.


Failing that, try Rowan's advice. If its not in your contracts, I'd have thought it'd be in there.





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My contract (as a casual) at a trio of large-ish venues here in Auckland is that there is a 3 hour minimum call, but if your shift finishes early there are two options-

* if you have worked for up to 2 hours, choose to get paid for that and go home early

or *choose a job from the jobs-to-do list in the LX toystore and do it until the completion of your call. Eg tidy lamp store, gel room, etc.


However a lot of crew simply leave if they finish early

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In TMA houses, this is frowned upon because you are actually being paid for by the visiting company, and not the venue. In these situations, the venue will charge the visiting company for the four hour call, even if you only do ten minutes. Most of the touring crew will let you go early if there is no work, there's no point them having you all around sitting on your arses.
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Harry, perhaps I shouldn't bring morality into it, but you haven't made it crystal clear what the business arrangment (the alternative, here, to morality...) is. Has the same management run the same theater for some time? Who used the term "four hour call", the tech manager, or was it on a piece of paper? Is the theater a "going concern", or a fly-by-night, marginal operation? Is there a line of workers wanting to sign up there, or do they need you a little more than you need them? Was the deceit intentional, or could it be a misunderstanding?


Because theater has been filled with thieves and exploiters for centuries, I'm inclined to think the worst of your theater, but I don't know the actual facts. I'm not just mouthing off, because I once had an Artistic Director tell me that she wasn't going to pay minimum calls, she wanted to use the crew in the morning, and send them away until she needed them again. Fortunately, I was in a position to ignore her, and the continue the venue's long-standing policy of four-hour calls. To this day, I don't know if I was risking my job or not. But I certainly didn't want that particular Tech Director job if I had to use the quality of labor you would get if you had to hire people who would work two hours at a time.


Don't get me wrong. I work in a big city, and I do believe there's a place both for union theater and for non-union theater. But there's such a thing as treating employees fairly, and then, there's exploitation. I admire the precision and dispassion of your posts, but they make it impossible to tell if you know you are being cheated!

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