How to use EQUITY (the actors union) to your advantage
Many performers, especially those new to the profession think of Equity as an organisation which takes your money and makes up rules. I am often asked by young people "Why do I need to join Equity? If it's not compulsory then why do I need to spend £100+ a year to be a member?"
Equity is a union for it's members, run by it's members who form the Council. It has paid empoyees who are skilled trades union workers who act in negotiations etc, but the decisions about how the union works come from its members - the performers.
The best way to use Equity to your advantage is to a) Be a member and b) Use them!
I have often heard people complain that when they had a problem with such and such a company Equity couldn't help them, but often when I have probed beneath the surface it turns out that the problem has arisen because that artist had signed a contract which legally entitled that company to behave as they have. If the artist had thought to consult Equity before accepting/signing that contract they would have been able to offer advice so that even if they could not change the contract, at least the artist would know up front what is expected.
Equity has a very capable and switched on legal team who will be happy to handle any dispute where they believe there is a case to answer. Most areas of performance are covered by agreements which have been negotiated (and often hard fought!) between the managements/producers and the performers/negotiators. These agreements cover work conditions, hours of work,overtime payments and behavious in the workplace.In addition to these agreements there are also working time regulations which all employers should follow and if they aren't Equity can intervene and if the company is not cooperative can take any claims to a tribunal.They will do this for members even if they are not working on an Equity contract.
So in summary, if you really want to use Equity to your advantage, make sure you are a member and don't be afraid to call them or email them if you want any advice. Their website is a very useful point of reference and contains most of the information about them you might need.