Well-known performers and actors earn ‘less than minimum wage’

Cultural professions are characterised by low pay, poor conditions and precarious work, according to new research.

One third of artists and creative practitioners earn less than the national minimum wage, and cultural professions are characterised by low pay, poor conditions and precarious work, according to new research.

The review of pay and conditions by Theatre Forum, the national organisation representing the performing arts, will be presented at Leinster House on Tuesday, and finds 30 per cent of performing artists earn less than the 2018 national minimum wage of €9.55 per hour. This is partly because 83 per cent are paid flat fees regardless of hours worked.

Average weekly earnings in arts, entertainment, recreation and other services were two-thirds of all other sectors of the economy (€494.98 compared to €740.32), and hourly earnings were three-quarters of the average (€17.12 compared to €22.62).

In the survey of wages in autumn 2018, PAYE arts jobs earned €18.54 per hour on average, and freelancers €16.83. Some 60 per cent of PAYE jobs in performing arts organisations pay less than the €35,365 national average wage.


The research is timely, coming after last week's letter from theatre workers saying the increase in co-productions at the Abbey Theatre, rather than self-produced shows, has significantly eroded incomes and job opportunities.

Theatre Forum's research shows poor pay and conditions across the sector. "Some of our best-known and loved artists do not earn anything close to a living wage and are unable to sustain their apparently successful careers," says Theatre Forum director Anna Walsh. "In the cultural sector, home of the gig economy, low pay and poor conditions are further exacerbated by the precarious nature of work. Artists have limited employment options, making too few or no PRSI and voluntary pension contributions, putting benefits, maternity, parental and sick leave, as well as pensions and housing, beyond reach. They cannot afford to be sick, find it difficult to plan careers, and near impossible to secure or afford a mortgage. Life choices such as a place to live, work and family formation are fraught with uncertainty."

Only workers in accommodation and food services earn less, according to the CSO Labour Costs bulletins at the end of 2018.

Theatre Forum surveyed 144 artists – including directors, writers, actors, dance artists, producers, composers, sound designers – and 81 arts organisations, across the performing arts sector. It examined three months (August to October 2018), a period with more work for freelance creatives than other times of year. If sustained through the year, average annual earnings would have been €22,752, just 64 per cent of the average €33,365 across all sectors.

As well as lower pay rates, the survey also found less work available: performing artists worked 28.9 paid hours a week compared to 32.7 hours generally.

Acknowledging there's no simple solution, Theatre Forum will ask Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan to look at policy, funding and employment frameworks to take action to improve artists' pay, conditions and access to support and benefits.

Four-fifths of performing arts jobs are precarious; 81 per cent of jobs in festivals, venues and production companies are temporary, with irregular hours, freelance contracts or a profit share. Nearly a quarter of artists received social welfare benefits, over half of arts organisations do not have staff pensions, three-quarters do not make employer pension contributions, and 62 per cent do not top up state maternity benefit.

Some 23 per cent of artists have to top up their income with non-arts jobs, and 63 per cent rely on other incomes, such as a household member.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times