Work Together (Archive)

Uruguayan cooperative unites over 1000 unites

26 July 2016
“A few years ago, when people used to ask “What do you do?”, and you said you were an actor, you could be sure the next question would be: “And what do you work as?”. That’s how Juan González Urtiaga, Vice President of Uruguayan cooperative Valorarte, looks back on the times before the “Actors’ and Related Professions Charter” was approved in 2008. The law marked the start of the official recognition of actors as workers, providing regulation for work they carried out with a series of rights and obligations aimed at providing a formal framework for their activities.

Worker cooperative Valorarte was formed under the framework, bolstered by the Sindicato Único de Actores/SUA (Actors’ Union, in English), as a means of strengthening often irregular work in the field using a cooperative model. The organisation initially brought together a hundred members connected to theatre, dance, and related professions, such as those working in audiovisuals.

At the start, the cooperative offered members a formal working framework through which they could invoice, pay retirement contributions, and obtain medical coverage. Valorarte has grown significantly since its creation in 2009 and today has over 1000 members: the number of monthly contracts varies from month to month but there are an average of 300.

“It’s a poor cooperative” says Oscar Serra, the cooperative’s president. “It’s difficult to earn the minimum salary you need to have a reasonable quality of life in this profession – most people need to have a second job: in a shoe shop, factory, wherever – to supplement their income. It makes membership difficult, it makes it hard to have an active core of people who can attend the types of mass gatherings common to cooperatives. Our numbers were pretty sparse when the board got together again eight months ago”.

Serra explains how the cooperative is currently at a point where it needs to redouble its efforts, assess the social and professional situation of workers in the field, and plan for future action. Eight years on from the introduction of the “Actors’ Charter”, the time is right to reflect on the current situation. Do they work enough days to provide them with a pension one day? Are there any rights they don’t have but should? The cooperative’s treasurer, Sergio Armand Ugón, talks about the need for a discussion about how many days should be worked to qualify for unemployment insurance – it’s something the cooperative is setting up meetings with politicians to discuss.

The cooperative may face challenges ahead, but they can be sure of one thing: the cooperative system has allowed them to formalise their working lives – it’s given them the chance to set up contractual agreements with state bodies, and given support to those actors who earn a lesser salary.