Monday, October 06, 2008

Bollywood workers strike 'over'

Bollywood technician
Some workers have not been paid for months, unions say

A strike that brought Bollywood film production to a halt has been called off, unions and employers say.

Union leader Dinesh Chaturvedi told the BBC News website that managers had agreed to their demands.

Unions said staff were working unreasonable hours and in many cases producers were months behind in payments to their staff.

The strike had also hit the booming television production in Mumbai (Bombay) in western India.

Implementation arguments

"The producers have agreed to our demands," Mr Chaturvedi of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees said. He told the BBC a new committee would look into payment disputes. And he said television filming sessions would be limited to 12 hours.

Sushma Shiromanee, vice-president of the Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association, told the BBC: "The strike is over. We have agreed to the same demands as on the earlier Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)."

Bollywood actor Salman Khan
Top stars can earn a fortune.

The BBC's Prachi Pinglay in Mumbai says the two sides signed a MoU early last year detailing wages for each category of worker in Mumbai's film and TV studios.

It also included guaranteed wage increases of up to 15% a year. However, since then producers and workers have argued over the implementation of the MoU.

Mr Chaturvedi's federation of 22 unions represents some 147,000 members. Earlier this week he complained that in some cases wages had been withheld for up to six months, leaving workers on the verge of starvation.

Television productions on tight schedules such as reality shows were the most affected by the dispute and several shooting schedules for daily shows were cancelled.

Workers complained that sometimes filming would carry on for more than 30 hours.

Those on strike ranged from dancing girls to carpenters, lighting technicians to cameramen, and soundmen to script writers.

'Inhumane'

The strike came as Bollywood has been enjoying an huge international boom. Top stars can earn more than $1m for a film.

One cameraman, Pramod, told the BBC that that a lack of proper contracts has led to severe insecurity for many staff. "Before, we used to get transport and some other facilities. Now if any worker complains, he will be replaced in no time," he said.

"Sometimes we are handling several serials at the same time. We don't even break for lunch in shooting schedules."

Another person involved in production, who wished to remain anonymous told the BBC: "The working conditions sometimes are inhumane. The workers prefer to be in television industry as there is more regular work than films. But how long can they work under such pressure? Even if the money matters are settled some guidelines must be laid down for working conditions."

While the negotiations were still going on, Mr Chaturvedi warned that production houses would have trouble meeting the backlog of unpaid wages. "They have been paying only about one third of what we agreed upon early 2007. And they have delayed those payments too," he told the BBC.

He warned that the total in unpaid wages could be worth the equivalent of $11m.

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