HomeLocal NewsNeed for tailor-made tax and welfare systems for artistes

Need for tailor-made tax and welfare systems for artistes


A KEY concern for those working to support the growth and development of the arts in Zimbabwe is lack of factual and up-to-date information on the sector in the country.

Josh Nyapimbi

This can be largely attributed to lack of interest and commitment to conduct regular research on the arts sector in order to enable meaningful support. Compounding the problem is limited meaningful use of ICT tools to share the limited information available.

The employment status of artistes can fall into a number of categories including:

Permanent full-time employee;

Contracted full-time employee (for example dance companies or some theatre company employees);

Contracted part-time temporary or permanent; and

Self-employed with or without part-time supplementary work as an employee or unemployed.

There is urgent need for quantitative and qualitative research on the country’s arts labour market, examining employment status, working patterns, earnings and take-up of social security benefits.

For Zimbabwe and as is the case in most Sadc countries, there is no comprehensive framework or strategy which takes into consideration all of the particular social, economic and legal needs of artistes in their working lives, despite the explosion in the number of creative professionals and professions over the last 28 years, doubling in number in some Sadc States, making such frameworks more important than ever.

While it is common knowledge that artistes have a distinct position in the labour market and economic development of any country, it is still problematic to apply the regular tax and social welfare regulations to artistes.

For example, in order to obtain some social security and other social and employment insurance benefits, an artiste will have to be a salaried employee, have worked a minimum number of days in a given period, and have earned a minimum amount on which their employer has paid contributions.

The majority of artistes in Zimbabwe or Sadc are self-employed or independent contractors so will not meet these conditions.

Artistes may also combine waged labour with self-employment which can give rise to administrative complexity and financial burdens, without compensating benefits from adequate social security protection.

Additional mechanisms designed specifically to meet artistes’ needs have been put in place in some European Union (EU) member states, either within the public tax and social welfare system or as independent programmes for artistes. It is about time we drew lessons from them.

For example, the key distinguishing features for artistes’ social security systems in the EU are:

Special measures for self-employed artistes within the general social security system, for example, in Germany;

Special measures for self-employed artistes outside the general system, such as additional benefits for sickness or supplements to old age pensions and often for artistes who have attained a certain standing or recognition (exist in Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands). It may be argued that if this facility was available in South Africa Miriam Makeba would not have died on stage after having announced her retirement earlier!

Measures organised by artistes’ unions, associations and other outside bodies (exist in Germany).

Artistes are often unemployed or underemployed and often for extended periods, yet many will not meet the conditions for minimum income support or State unemployment benefits. For example, a self-employed artiste cannot by definition be out of work and therefore may not be able to claim unemployment benefits despite earning less than the minimum income threshold.

The real problem for these artistes is that they are not “jobless”, but “income-less” and this can be a prolonged feature of their artistic careers.

The artiste must be seen to be actively looking for work, therefore not pursuing their artistic creation, improving their techniques or practicing and must be willing in many cases to take any job they are offered, no matter how inappropriate.

When an artiste is asked about their work and motivations, many refer to non-pecuniary considerations and creative and aesthetic goals that motivate them, rather than purely striving for financial gains.
At the same time, artistes cannot be spared from the economic reality of having to earn a living.

Due to insufficient financial rewards, particularly in the early phase of a career, and the often erratic nature of their employment, many artistes have to take a second job, related or unrelated to their artistic production, to obtain a basic income to survive financially.

When an artiste is engaged in work outside their artistic production, problems arise in relation to taxation such as defining whether the artiste is a professional artiste or merely conducting a hobby, or what constitutes deductible business expenses.

In labour supply decisions, artistes behave much like any other economic agent in allocating their time and responding to economic incentives. However, it is important to expand the traditional labour supply function when we consider the predicament of most artistes forced into secondary employment due to low incomes and insufficient employment opportunities.

Standard labour market theory explains the allocation of an individual’s time between working and leisure in terms of relative wage rates and the trade-offs between higher incomes versus increased leisure time.

The theory is that people within a labour market will supply more hours of labour as wages rise, but beyond the point that an adequate income is being earned, the individual will tend to respond to increased wages by supplying decreasing amounts of labour and taking more leisure time.

For artistes, however, the labour supply decision is broken down into two different markets: the market for their primary artistic activity, and the non-arts market to which they turn to gain income to live and sustain their artistic work.

The time devoted to arts work versus non-arts work will therefore be determined by the relative wages in the arts and non-arts sectors. When considering ways in which to improve taxation and benefit systems for artistes therefore, artistes’ incomes must be considered in light of this duality.

Even with exemptions from taxes, the relative wage due to the artiste should be considered in comparison to their possibilities for work in other sectors, rather than merely the absolute value of the exemption on income.

If the need to work in a second job is seen as a barrier to the artiste’s development and success, the relative wage with associated tax benefits (and accounting for non-pecuniary utility) would have to be relatively more attractive, to encourage artistes to devote more time to arts work.

Artistes do respond to economic incentives, but have a marked preference for arts work, so will only spend enough time in non-arts work to support themselves and their artistic production.

The more they can earn an hour in non-arts work, the less time they will spend on it and the more they will devote to their artistic profession.

Finding more valuable non-arts work for artistes could therefore be an issue, which in most cases would involve encouraging work in areas related to their discipline such as teaching where their skill would be more highly valued.

Artistes can be grouped into a number of different categories based on their discipline, employment status, and even their accomplishment or prestige.

Artistes internationally, however, have a number of characteristics in common such as poor or at least variable incomes, sporadic employment, and an unpredictable market place where success is often determined by the subjective evaluations of experts.

Discussions with artistes from different disciplines showed that although each art form faces specific issues, some common themes emerged about the difficulties faced in earning a living and dealing with the tax and benefit system in Zimbabwe.

One of the key problems artistes face is confusion about their status, obligations, and entitlements regarding both tax and benefits.

Artistes are concerned with lack of user-friendly information on how the tax and social benefit systems apply to them.

Central information systems or sections within the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the National Social Security Authority specifically set up to service the arts industry are needed.

Further, there is need for artistes’ associations to have designated tax specialists who can act both as information sources and as advocates for artistes when dealing with the social benefits and tax offices.

In Canada, for example, Revenue Canada runs courses for self-employed artistes on how to develop a business plan for their artistic business.

This not only helps them plan their financial and other business strategies, but also ensures they have the necessary documentation and records for tax and other funding purposes.

In Ireland, clear and simple tax guides are produced and distributed both through the revenue commission and various artistes’ associations. There is also a specialist department within the revenue commission which deals exclusively with the artistes’ exemption.

Many artistes avoid the entire taxation area and therefore do not take up many of the benefits and tax breaks that they may be entitled to. There is a need to provide simple and effective ways of conveying tax and benefit legislation to artistes in a language and medium that they understand and can access.

Josh Nyapimbi is the executive director of Nhimbe Trust, a non-profit arts advocacy organisation based in Bulawayo. Through legislative and grassroots action, Nhimbe Trust advocates for national policies that recognise, enhance and foster the contribution made by arts to national development

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