Precarious employment and the generation gap in culture

The 2008 crisis was devastating for culture. Cutbacks left many projects without funding and public services had to reduce or freeze hiring. Precarious employment in the sector has increased with the outsourcing of services and the generational gap, which hinders the replacement of professionals. Digitalisation has contributed to a cultural entrepreneurship which often results in enthusiastic self-employment, or renouncing a true work culture.

The culture of our country is benefiting more than ever from uninhibited creativity with some leeway for countercultural initiatives. In contrast, there is a serious imbalance between accessible human resources (a large pool of enthusiastic young creators keen to work) and the material and legal resources to go ahead with projects or improve public services. The 2008 cutbacks affected all sectors of culture. The Government tried to compensate for them with Law 35/2010, which facilitated the outsourcing of services to temporary employment agencies. The resulting precarious situation condemned many young cultural workers to carry out tasks far below their skills and education, and also inferior to the work they have ended up doing in public services. It is worrying and symptomatic that for the purposes of this debate it was impossible to find any subcontracted young people willing to openly denounce this precarious situation.

There is an entire generation born after the 1980s who are at a professional standstill due to the precariousness of the work market, but also because of the generational inequality which has resulted in limited renovation of culture professionals. We have compiled accounts from the sectors of museums, archives, voiceover and theatre, which detect or suffer from this lack of renovation, yet another trigger for the precarious work situation which we have been stuck in for too long. The situation has now worsened with the abuse of the enthusiasm and the rights of the creators, as denounced in the opening of this debate by three authorities: Remedios Zafra, Simona Levi and Ingrid Guardiola.

Remedios Zafra © Pere Virgili Remedios Zafra © Pere Virgili

REMEDIOS ZAFRA. Writer and professor of Art, Visual Studies, Gender Studies and Digital Culture at the University of Seville. Author of El entusiasmo, winner of the Anagrama Award for Non-fiction in 2017, for this piece on the conditions under which culture is produced and managed.

At some point in history talking about money when somebody writes, paints, composes a song or creates became something rude. Precarious employment in the creative world is camouflaged with high doses of motivation and will; at times the payments received are intangible or symbolic and they make workers feel as if they have achieved something. This naturalisation of precarious situations in the digital era is also supported by online lives in which we spend more and more time managing our networks and “ourselves” within them. We are the major creative product of the present.

Ways of creating are changing with internet, and this can be interpreted in many ways, descriptive, and even more, anthropological, political and critical. Seen from the critical approach we could say that at present creation is in an even more precarious situation. Different thinkers speak of the precariousness of images and works in networks due to speed, vulnerability, reworking and limited shelf-life. These works are condemned to be swiftly replaced by the newest and most frequently viewed ones, and these are done and stored when hardly anyone has seen them. Creation thus becomes quick and surplus, with headlines looking to summarise everything, to prompt emotion but not thought, valuing accumulation and quantity over depth.

The cultural system takes advantage of politically disengaged creative individuals. Precariousness in creative work operates as a sort of domestication.

Simona Levi © Ester Roig Simona Levi © Ester Roig

SIMONA LEVI. Artist and activist. Director of the Conservas space for creation in the Raval district and founder of Xnet.

The world of culture and creation is schizophrenic: it is protected by those who steal from it. We defend these rights as belonging to the authors and in turn most authors are defended by those who steal rights from them. But why does this happen? It is a psychiatric problem. We creators are workers in a highly precarious position, but we feel superior and never fight alongside the rest of workers, even though we are defending the same rights. It is practically impossible to organise artists into trade unions. Each artist believes him or herself to be an outstanding genius who will be able to find a path of his or her own, resolving problems on their own. And we end up in the most precarious situations, by being the most arrogant, the most narcissistic and ultimately the most servile. This is a guild with no solution, a masochist collective hurting itself all on its own.

Rights ought to be in the hands of the authors and not in the hands of those who steal them for financial gain. With internet there is no need for these authors’ rights to be managed by companies such as SGAE which have often been proved not to work, as well as being corrupt and offering no guarantees. If this cannot be understood despite all the proof we have collected and all that we have explained about this phenomenon, I don’t know what else can be done.

Ingrid Guardiola © Ester Roig Ingrid Guardiola © Ester Roig

INGRID GUARDIOLA. Teacher, filmmaker, essayist and cultural producer. Doctor in Humanities from the UPF. She coordinates the MINIPUT (Mostra de Televisió de Qualitat) and collaborates with the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre (CCCB), as coordinator of the project Soy cámara and co-producer of some programmes for Pantalles CCCB on BTV.

In a context of connected digital technology and production of capital through learning, older professions have been lost. We have gone from factories to services and from services to networks. And networks are diffuse and ramified systems which allow people to produce from their own home, thus forming a highly disperse body of work. The workers from these networks are not even recognised as a single body, which makes it difficult to maintain the 20th-century work culture, erased by what is known as cognitive capitalism.

Now, instead of being exploited by some employer, we end up exploiting ourselves. We are left without tools to control the imposed discipline in work and everything becomes self-discipline. As philosopher Byung Chul-Han says, in a performance society which rewards exploitation at all costs, when we assume the responsibility for ourselves we do not set limits. And this exploitation is worse than what it was at the hands of others.

Elena Vozmediano Elena Vozmediano

ELENA VOZMEDIANO. Art critic in “El Cultural” in El Mundo.

We are witnessing the gradual occupation by temporary employment agencies of a broad workspace which used to be public. To quote one example, one of the companies providing “work force” in this sector, MagmaCultura, has close to nine-hundred employees. The limited budget of cultural institutions is not the only reason for this transformation. Laws have also encouraged this. Until 1994, temporary employment agencies were illegal in Spain. During the years when the budget of museums and art centres was sufficient (if it really was), those in charge should have drawn up organisational chart or well-argued lists of work places adapted to the needs of each institution. This was almost never the case. With the crisis, workforces began to decrease and when in 2012 the Government passed the Royal Decree Law 20/2012, with measures to guarantee budget stability, the control of expenditure in terms of personnel brought about a drastic reduction in public employment in the cultural sector. Before 2010 the administration could not sign contracts with temporary employment agencies except for occasional work and never for longer than six months. These limitations disappeared with the coming into effect of Law 35/2010, with urgent measures reforming the labour market. According to the latest salary figures published (for 2012, Official State Bulletin of February 2014), graduates ought to earn 1,148 euros gross monthly pay, but if we select the epigraph of “room controller” (even though educational tasks are carried out), 750 gross monthly euros are usually assigned. Some companies have their own agreements, which rip off the employees, but it is quite hard to find these on their respective websites.

Antoni Laporte Antoni Laporte

ANTONI LAPORTE. Director of ARTImetría consulting firm.

If there were younger people in charge of museums and on the permanent staff, it would surely be easier to reach out to a young public. There is now a generational divide. It used to be that somebody began to work as a guide and ended up as head of department. This was the usual route: from visitor guide to stable employment. As a result of subcontracting services to external companies, this ladder no longer exists.

The outsourcing of guides and educational activities began in the 1990s when some institutions with very low budgets aimed at cost cutting. The crisis led to a freeze on hiring and no new personnel have been contracted since 2011. Any contracting is to be done in accordance with chapter 2.

The people who are most in contact with the public are personnel subcontracted by external companies. These were precarious work situations in which people remained between one and three years. Now they have been held back for eight or nine years, and some have been working for more than ten, earning under 1,000 euros a month. That is one of the reasons for the strikes which have been held in some Barcelona museums: workers who for many years have held highly visible posts but under precarious work conditions.


Jaume Munuera Jaume Munuera

JAUME MUNUERA. Archivist in Matadepera. Spokesperson for the Association of Archivists and Document Managers of Catalonia.

One can talk about precarious employment in the sector of archivists and document managers both in public administration and in private companies. These both share points in common despite their differences. 

In the public sector we find a lack of consolidation of the figure of archival and documentary specialists in corporations, despite favourable changes in regulation. There are unresolved processes regarding provisional contracts, largely affected by the cutbacks from the crisis. The limitations in the creation of new posts have led to an abuse of temporary contracts, employment plans and other formulae which encourage precarious employment, especially among young people. However, this situation is being partly reversed: the creation of new posts for structural needs and the stabilisation of temporary employment is allowed.

We must also remember that precarious situations arise from contracts from external services, when no measures are taken to ensure suitable wages for the tasks and specialisation required. And that there are insufficient employees to successfully meet the challenges of the management of digitised documents. There is a generational divide which can only be solved by increasing resources and personnel.

The private sector is presented as an opportunity but is lacking specific professional profiles: those of archivist and document manager are often confused with other profiles. These are often precarious work situations which are poorly suited to document management professionals, highlighting this lack of information about the real situation in technical, professional and labour terms.

Roger Isasi Roger Isasi

ROGER ISASI. Voiceover actor. Association of Professional Actors and Directors of Catalonia (AADPC).

For four years voiceover actors have been working without a labour agreement, after the last one could no longer be renewed. We should sign a new agreement with employer organisations, but they have just disbanded and we are now in talks with an SME which covers some but not all studios. This has been taken to court but the High Court of Justice declares that it is not within their competences and we are awaiting the resolution from the Supreme Court.

Not having a fixed agreement makes any agreement verbal. It’s all or nothing. Our rates have been frozen for years. We are paid a set wage of 36.99 euros for each voiceover session and 4.06 euros per take. Each take is six lines of a script. There is no generational inequality as there voices of all ages are needed, but older actors are relatively worse off. My father is a retired voiceover actor and has to pay to attend voiceover sessions with less than twelve takes, because 70 euros is deducted from his pension every time he goes to work.

Once you could live off Catalan voiceovers. Now it is a mere chimera.

Andreu Gomila © Maria Dias Andreu Gomila © Maria Dias

ANDREU GOMILA. Theatre journalist. Former director of Time Out magazine (2010-2017).

No Catalan director born in the 1980s has ever directed a play in the great hall of the Teatre Lliure or that of the Teatre Nacional. We are talking about people of up to thirty-eight years of age. If we look back at the 2012-2013 season, only seven directors born in the 1970s enjoyed this privilege.

This changes if we talk about dance as in fact the choreographers from the 1970s and 1980s are fashionable at present. Here we are talking about Pere Faura, Lali Ayguadé, Roser López Espinosa or El Conde de Torrefiel. For some time now Mercat de les Flors has been boosting their careers with international coproductions. This generation coexists with that of Àngels Margarit and Cesc Gelabert.

The key to this is the comparison with dance. All these choreographers, old and young, constantly work throughout Europe and America. Theirs is a bigger market and while Gelabert or Mal Pelo were exporting their pieces, younger professionals had space to become visible and be seen in the small world of local dance, so that they can now follow in the steps of the veterans, to find alliances abroad. And this is something which, with the exception of a few playwrights, has rarely happened in the theatre world.

If younger authors are not allowed to take the leap it is because older ones rarely do. Or to put it more clearly, because they have failed as international directors. In Europe the generational shift occurs naturally when among other factors major figures are hired by theatres outside their usual area of work.

And let’s not forget the “hot potato” factor: often, professionals from the 1970s and 1980s take major risks. If an opportunity arises and they fail, they have to start again.

Carla Rovira © Ester Roig Carla Rovira © Ester Roig

CARLA ROVIRA. Actress and playwright. She was in charge of inaugurating the Festival Temporada Alta. Winner of the FAD Sebastià Gasch Award 2016 for Para-Theatre Arts.

The biggest problem is not the generational divide: it is precariousness. As regards work, we work, but people should know under what conditions. I have always really hated the cliché which says: “Catalan theatre cannot absorb the amount of actors and actresses who come out of the schools every year”. That is a lie. If it is happening the market is to blame, as it is constrictive and generates horrific dynamics. The generational divide exists because there are very few places where you get paid well, and the rest of the theatre system is in a highly precarious situation. Although there are many of us working, how visible are we? Hardly at all. The generational divide is linked to financial precariousness. Money is not well distributed: it is a disgrace that Lluís Pasqual was paid 254,000 euros a year. That money could have been used to set up many projects, with many decent wages. Generational inequality is basically a question of redistribution of wealth. There are very rich people and widespread poverty. Years ago, in a show by LAminimAL we worked it out and realised that we had been paid forty-four cents the hour. That was unbelievable.

Illona Muñoz Illona Muñoz

ILLONA MUÑOZ. Actress and educator. Member of Collective Mut.

When I work (getting paid; I know that specifying this must sound strange in other sectors, but not on the stage) I’m normally hired by gig, except when I’m doing the season or in rehearsals when, in the best case scenario, there is a longer contract. If the problem of getting leave is already complicated, imagine what maternity leave is like. Always provided you don’t have really bad luck and give birth on a day with a show or during rehearsals. Most actresses request “general leave” not connected with pregnancy (flu, sprains, whitlow). Then you have to go on a pilgrimage around family doctors, gynaecologists, midwives, the Social Security and its never-ending queues, consultants who know how to deal with two-day contracts with an artists’ or bullfighters’ regime.

You survive the last two months of pregnancy with a common leave which arrives once you have already given birth, and afterwards with the maternity leave, which also has to be processed much later. And once it’s over, that’s it. The desert and a four-month-old baby. All this if you’re lucky enough to have leave. I can understand why many women choose to leave the profession after having a child.

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