Disney costume workers get $1,000 pay rise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 May, 2006, 12:00am

Disney has agreed to give $1,000-a-month pay rises to its character performers after they protested over their pay and conditions and threatened to hijack one of the theme park's daily parades.

The 11 per cent rise, which takes from $9,000 to $10,000 a month the basic pay of employees who dress as cartoon characters and greet guests, was awarded after 90 out of the 120 performers signed a protest petition, according to their union.

The characters staged a press conference where some railed against pay and working conditions. Some said they were considering hijacking a daily costumed parade with banners demanding more pay.

The $1,000 rise is only half the amount demanded by the Disney Cast Members Union to bring the pay of character performers in line with that of show performers, but it looks likely to end the immediate dispute.

At a meeting with the union on Friday, Disney managing director Bill Ernest also told employees the company would introduce longer rest periods to ease the strain on performers during longer shifts.

During summer, performers will have 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes between appearances, in line with the practice in overseas parks, Disney said.

Employees were also assured they could apply for transfers to better-paid jobs at the park after working for six months, addressing concerns that character performers cannot rise within the ranks.

The concessions by Disney come just weeks after executives described the workers who complained about pay and conditions as an unrepresentative minority.

The complaints about pay ignored the fact that character performers and show characters were 'two entirely different roles that require different skills, training, and physical ability and are therefore compensated differently', one Disney executive said at the time.

In the statement to the Post confirming the pay rise, Disney made no mention of the talks with the union and insisted the pay rise had been under consideration 'for many months'.

It added: 'The adjustments are not a response to recent sensational allegations in the media, but rather some of many examples of our ongoing commitment to our hard-working cast.'

Elaine Hui Sio-ieng, organising secretary of the Disney Cast Members Union, said: 'Disney claims all the new policies now being introduced have been under consideration for a long time, but I think the union and the cast members have exerted pressure for change.

'We welcome the pay rise and the other new policies introduced by Disney and we appreciate Disney's efforts.'

'There is still room for improvement, but we understand some of these issues may take time. We hope Disney will maintain its sensitivity to cast members in future.'

Before Friday's breakthrough, Ms Hui claimed Disney repeatedly ignored the complaints of cast members, holding meeting after meeting but failing to announce any concrete measures.

Asked if the concessions meant an end to the dispute, she said: 'The union always endeavours to strive for improvements for cast members and we will carry on in this spirit, but I think some of the major issues raised have been responded to quite well.'