Ken Loach suspended from Bectu amidst internal tensions in the union

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Ken Loach, director and trade unionist of sixty years, has had his decision-making privileges as member of Bectu’s Writers, Producers & Directors branch committee revoked. More below:

There’s a headline we didn’t think we’d be writing today.

Ken Loach, the outspoken filmmaker best-known for social dramas such as Kes, The Wind That Shakes The Barley and this year’s The Old Oak, has been suspended from UK film and TV union Bectu over internal divisions with parent union, Prospect.

According to Deadline, Loach was suspended along with two other Bectu members, while another six were issued with disciplinary measures.

The group say they are being punished over a technicality surrounding the resignation of a representative from within the branch, who previously critiqued the leadership of Prospect chief Mike Clancy.

Prospect said the individuals involved broke union rules, and that there was evidence bullying and discrimination had taken place. Loach and co strongly denied the bullying and discrimination accusations, and said Prospect had not produced evidence to back up its claims.

In February, Loach said the union was at risk of failing vulnerable workers when four women quit the union’s top committee in protest at management. Prospect merged with Bectu in 2017 – a move which Loach strongly opposed at the time.

Speaking to Deadline, Loach said he had been treated unfairly, and claimed the disciplinary process had taken place without transparency.

“The [WPD] committee has felt harassed and impeded in its work for some years,” he said. “No union is perfect … but the people of Prospect have no idea what it is like to be a freelance worker in the film industry.”

Prospect categorically rejected claims of unfair treatment, and said the director “did not take the opportunity to fully engage with the investigation.” Loach said he engaged as fully as he could while he was on the film festival trail with his latest feature The Old Oak.

Read more: Interview | Ken Loach, Paul Laverty and the cast chat The Old Oak

A Prospect spokesperson said: “By rendering a partial account of the process he [Loach] is breaching confidentiality of an ongoing process. Confidentiality is necessary to protect those who were at the centre of the issues that arose.

“The investigation was conducted by the national executive committee following evidence that some representatives had potentially broken the rules. This included evidence of bullying and discrimination. The process was exhaustive and conducted in accordance with the rules of the union.

“The disciplinary sanctions reflected the findings of the investigation report and the national executive committee made decisions in each case on its merits. To suggest they are part of a ‘war’ shows there has been an absence of reflection since the national executive committee reached its conclusions.

“The Bectu sector of Prospect is one of the fastest growing parts of the trade union movement. Suggesting that Prospect does not understand the nature of freelancers is deliberate deflection from the serious issues under investigation.”

Regardless of the suspension, Loach has said he planned to resign his post on the branch committee next year, saying “a blast of fresh air through the union is what we all need. We’ve been over these issues before, so for now, a merry Christmas to all.”

Bectu’s former general secretary, Gerry Morrissey, said he could not comment on the disciplinary proceedings, but admitted he was saddened by Loach’s suspension.

“Even if people don’t agree with all of his political views, there’s no doubt whatsoever that he’s loved by Bectu members,” he added.

Morrissey also said he didn’t like disciplining or suspending members during his 12 years as head of Bectu. “We were very reluctant to discipline representatives or members of the union. We would always find a way through by talking to each other,” he said. “It’s sad that this hasn’t been achieved on this occasion.”

Prospect said: “We are incredibly proud of Bectu’s record of standing up for and delivering change for both freelance and employed workers post-merger. Bectu, within Prospect, has increased its profile and influence in the creative industries, playing a leading role in addressing many issues that affect freelancers, including precarious working, cuts to the arts, and bullying and harassment.”

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