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Work in the field of culture and creative industries (CCI) is transforming, undergoing changes in terms of forms of employment and ways of engaging workers or contractors. The field’s special characteristics include blurring the boundary between working hours and free time, double employment, widespread self-employment and the so-called “gig economy” formats. However, the existing research in Ukraine focuses on the needs and interests of the consumers of culture, or on the development trends in specific industries, such as the music market or fashion and design, or on the development potential of culture in general. Meanwhile, according to different estimates, 140,000 to 200,000 people officially work in this field in Ukraine—and this number does not account for the self-employed or those who are not registered in any way.

Employment and labor conditions are associated with life satisfaction. Work affects the opportunities (or lack thereof) in other spheres of human life: access to health care, housing, education, and high-quality and diverse leisure. The aforementioned characteristics of the CCI field may create challenges for ensuring decent labor conditions as well as obstacles to the engagement of skilled professionals in CCI work and their professional development; therefore, they can be an obstacle to the field’s growth.

This study aimed to clarify the labor conditions of people employed in culture and creative industries in Ukraine, their problems, needs and interests in professional development. In particular, our goal was to outline the differences between women and men, employees and independent specialists, employees of public (communal) institutions and private institutions, and the existing differences between various CCI sectors.

The study was conducted in two parts: a desk stage, which involved a review of regulatory documents that affect CCI employment and regulate the working conditions of the employees of public and communal culture institutions; and a field stage, which combined a quantitative and a qualitative approach.

The field stage of this research took place in July–August 2021. Using the CATI (computer-assisted telephone interviewing) method, we surveyed 812 respondents engaged in 8 CCI sectors. The survey included respondents who have at least one year of experience in paid work in the CCI field, both as employees at public or private institutions and organizations, and as independent professionals (particularly “private individuals — entrepreneurs”).

We also conducted 23 in-depth semi-structured interviews with experts in the field of culture and creativity, representatives of government bodies, and heads of institutions and organizations that work in the field of culture and creativity.

At the moment, one of the few documents which determine priorities in the CCI field is the Program of Activities of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Due to the lack of a comprehensive strategic document or development program, the problems and needs of various CCI sectors or various institutions may not receive proper attention. Our efforts to distinguish areas associated with improving the situation of workers in this field among the government’s priorities in culture and creative industries were unsuccessful.

The role of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policies lies exclusively within the bounds of social security for creative workers and culture workers; the Ministry of Economy, in turn, plays the key role in shaping the employment policies. The stakeholders seem to lack established cooperation, their interaction is complicated, particularly due to their different visions of the need for “profitability” in culture.

Several segments can be distinguished among the key regulatory acts which affect the work in CCI: the framework Ukrainian Law “On culture,” the Labor Code regulations, the Ministry of Culture decree on regulating labor compensation, and sectoral laws which guarantee labor rights and social security to employees. Copyright laws also significantly impact employment in CCI because they are used as guidelines for drafting contracts on the transfer of the rights to use creative work and for calculating author fees.

The majority of the surveyed respondents have a higher education degree (88%). Although professional education is not a requirement for a career in CCI, our informants explained the importance of this education, in particular, by the fact that it provides more opportunities or even can be necessary for employment in public and communal culture institutions or for taking teaching positions.

Only one in five (18%) respondents reported that their knowledge and skills obtained during education were completely sufficient at the beginning of their career. In the respondents’ opinion, at the beginning of their CCI careers, they lacked organizational skills and project management skills, specialized skills and knowledge for working in CCI in particular (35% each). About a quarter of the respondents reported a lack of entrepreneurial skills, a lack of contacts in professional circles, and a lack of computer skills.

Self-education and informal education play a definitive role in obtaining the skills required for working in CCI: this method is chosen by the majority of respondents (78%). Other important methods are informal communication with members of professional circles (60%) and learning skills in the process of completing work tasks (46%).

The majority of CCI workers try to gain work experience while obtaining higher education. 78% had paid employment during their studies, and almost 40% worked in CCI. In addition, almost a third (28%) of the respondents have had some experience of unpaid work in the CCI field.

More than a half of the respondents (56%) were able to find their first paid stable employment in the field within half a year after completing their education. However, almost one in five (18%) spent 1 to 5 years searching for such employment.

The key sign of career growth in CCI, according to the respondents, is recognition in professional circles in Ukraine (46%). However, in in-depth interviews, the informants associated professional success with having work (projects, customers, clients) and decent conditions of work or activities.

The most important factor for making a career in the CCI field is persistent work: three quarters (75%) of the respondents believe that it is required. Other important factors include having professional knowledge and skills; having a talent, a gift in one’s field; knowing the right people. The findings of in-depth interviews indicate that networking plays an especially important role for those who are employed on a per-project basis.

Certain recurrent claims encountered by CCI workers during their studies or professional activities may, in particular, normalize certain practices (for instance, unpaid work) and affect their career-building strategies. In particular, this concerns the following statements: “work in culture and creative industries is not work, it’s a way of life” (60%); “it is not work, it’s a calling” (56%), and “you can’t make good money by working in culture and creativity” (55%). 

The survey participants were asked a number of questions about working conditions or characteristics of employment situations in their work, depending on their employment status (employee or independent professional).

Work stability is one of the most important characteristics of dignified labor. Notably, only less than a half (45%) of the surveyed employees feel that there are no risks of losing their current job whatsoever. The work stability of independent professionals depends on the availability of commissions to provide services or carry out work. Among independent professionals, almost a third (30%) believe that it would not be easy for them to find new customers if they lose their regular customers.

The survey findings demonstrate that the workload of CCI workers is mostly uneven and wave-like. For instance, two thirds of the employees (60%) have alternating periods of higher workload and periods of lower workload. Extremely uneven workload is even more widespread among independent professionals: one third (33%) have periods of excessive workload followed by periods when there are practically no tasks to do (versus 17% of employees).

This unequal workload is associated primarily with the characteristics of work in the CCI field; for example, event organization requires large-scale and lengthy preparation which intensifies as the beginning of the event approaches. Among the causes of uneven workload, in-depth interview participants mentioned the widespread practice of simultaneous involvement of workers in several projects; unstable donor support which does not always arrive within the predicted term; pronounced seasonality associated with the operations of donor organizations and project goals.

Overwork, especially frequent, may significantly affect one’s health and well-being, as well as their work-life balance. Cases when employees had to work outside of working hours to carry out their tasks accompany the work of almost a third (27%) of the respondents. We also asked independent professionals how often they have to work when they were not planning to do it in order to complete the work or provide the services commissioned from them. A fifth (21%) of the respondents encounter this situation several times a week, and over a third (36%) encounter it several times per month.

The survey participants were asked to evaluate the extent to which their work income in the past three years has corresponded to their effort and qualifications. A majority (59%) of employees believe that their salary is lower or significantly lower than they deserve. Among independent professionals, the assessment is similar: for 54%, their income was lower or significantly lower.

The surveyed employees are generally satisfied with most aspects of their labor conditions. The respondents gave the highest marks to their relations with colleagues and in the team, as well as to the possibility of freely expressing problems at the workplace. They were the least satisfied with provisions for the needs of employees with children (a changing table, a children’s corner or a room where children can play), as well as with their pay and with aceccibility accommodations in the workplace and outside the building.

More than a third (38%) of the respondents have an additional paid occupation on top of their main job. Some of them (45%) combine their main job with employment at private, public or communal institutions or NGOs, and some combine it with self-employment.

The two main reasons why the workers combine jobs are to obtain additional income (57%) and for self-actualization and new career opportunities (49%). At the same time, for almost a quarter of the respondents (24%), the additional job is their main source of income. The findings of in-depth interviews demonstrate that the desire to increase one’s income is an important reason, because in some cases, additional employment may fund their CCI work on top of providing them with a livelihood.

We have singled out several coping strategies, i.e. actions and efforts which people make to overcome obstacles associated with their CCI work (particularly unstable working conditions). The following strategies help them adjust and continue working in the field: combining jobs, overworking, using the support of their loved ones, and using housing which they do not have to pay rent for.

Over a third (39%) of independent professionals find it difficult to bear the responsibility associated with entrepreneurship. The information we obtained at in-depth interviews gives us reasons to believe that the procedures required for entrepreneurship are characterised by complexity, which may discourage some independent professionals from registering as “private individuals — entrepreneurs.” On the other hand, some CCI workers choose entrepreneurship due to circumstances and are not actually prepared for it. For instance, our informants noted that they registered as PIEs when they encountered projects that required this, or in order to expand their access to grant funding.

The negative situations which have been faced by the highest number of respondents among independent professionals were the following: a customer demanded to complete the job within a shorter term than was agreed upon (17% faced this situation frequently or very frequently); a customer did not want to sign a contract (16%), a customer paid the fees a very long time after the services were provided or the work was completed (14%).

Tellingly, independent professionals who have registered as PIEs were generally less likely to have their rights infringed by their customers than those who have not registered. For instance, the situation when they were not paid at all happened very rarely with 78% of PIEs versus 67% of those who have no PIE. This can be explained by the fact that those independent professionals who have not registered as PIEs provide services on the grounds of civil contracts or simply work without a legal formalization of their relations with the customer. Therefore, as they are not particularly able to affect the contents of the contract or have no contract whatsoever, it is easier for the customer to break the agreement and leave the contractor without pay.

According to our analysis of in-depth interviews, intellectual property rights violations should be noted as one of the widespread violations in the field of CCI. In particular, the informants mentioned the following situations: intellectual property rights violations while selling visual artworks; signing contracts in which the authors must forfeit their personal property rights (receiving royalties); and situations in which the listed authors of an audiovisual artwork do not include everyone who should be included according to the law.

As for the violations of the labor rights of employees, one of the most widespread situations is when the employer offers them to work without formalizing their labor relations, offering to sign a civil contract, register as a PIE or to work based on an oral agreement instead of signing a labor contract. In the opinion of almost a third (28%) of the respondents, this happens often or very often in the CCI field. Other widespread violations are associated with labor compensation: failure to pay for working overtime, on holidays and weekends (29%), paying a part of the salary under the counter (25%), delaying pay (22%).

The survey findings indicate that in some cases, the respondents may agree to labor conditions which infringe on their labor rights. For example, more than half (52%) were prepared to agree to an internship instead of a trial period, although, unlike internship, the trial period, according to the law, involves signing a labor contract and must be paid. A third (33%) of the respondents would agree to work without formalizing the employment relationship.

Our analysis of in-depth interviews confirms that many violations in CCI go unchallenged and are silenced or normalized instead. Fighting for labor rights is individual rather than collective. The informants mentioned the following ways to defend one’s rights: demanding that the customer signs a contract at the beginning of the work; publicizing the situation; not handing over the completed work until the customer or employer fulfills their obligations.

Only a third of the surveyed employees are union members. In addition, 43% do not wish to join a union, versus 23% who would like to join. Despite this, over a half (62%) completely or mostly agreed with the statement that union membership can protect their rights as employees.

The research was conducted by the Cedos Think Tank with support from the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation.

Ukrainian Cultural Foundation is a government institution established in 2017 as a new model of competition-based state funding and promotion of initiatives in the field of culture and creative industries. The foundation’s work, according to the current law, is an integral part of the policy and determines the priorities of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine.

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