Speedy & ‘Stable’

Pact for Canuck actors, producers sends message

TORONTO — The largest union representing Canadian actors and the associations representing most of Canada’s producers have in record time reached a two-year collective agreement, months before the previous agreement was to expire.

“We want to send a message to the industry in North America and worldwide that this is a stable labor environment in Canada,” Steve Waddell, national director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), said Friday in Toronto. “Canada is open for business. Come on back.”

The collective agreement, hammered out in just five days of negotiations, gives Canadian actors a 6% wage increase over two years, the same relative gains achieved by actors in the U.S. this spring. The deal was reached early Friday morning after a 24-hour marathon meeting in which lead negotiators worked to an arbitrary end-of-week deadline set to allay widespread insecurities in the production industry.

This has been a turbulent year all around. Producers across North America were in a rush this spring to get plenty of product in the can in the face of a possible U.S. actors’ strike in the summer that did not come to pass. An economic downturn along with September’s terrorist attacks scuttled the subsequent resurgence that everyone was counting on, and more recently the Canadian government announced that it intends to close a tax shelter that had raised funds for many U.S. productions shot in Canada.

“In a very difficult time, when this industry needed a win, we gave it a win,” said the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn.’s chief negotiator John Barrack. “This is a very competitive market. I think that we all recognize that this is a business. Business likes stability and stability brings work.”

Concessions made

“We didn’t get everything we wanted,” conceded Waddell, noting that Canuck thesps remain a long way from wage parity with their U.S. counterparts. “But given the economic uncertainty, we recognized that that just wasn’t achievable this time around,” he said, adding that parity remains a “core objective” for ACTRA.

Guaranteeing better roles for Canuck thesps, a top priority going into the negotiations, seems at first glance also to have fallen by the wayside. The new Independent Production Agreement includes provisions for an “improved audition environment,” but does not impose any specific measures, such as quotas, for more plum roles for members. Waddell noted that reaching a prompt collective agreement goes further to enhancing work opportunities, under the circumstances, than wading into a quota quagmire.

U.S. concerns

Some U.S. studios had expressed concern about planning their schedules in the face of a possible actors’ strike in Canada, noted Waddell. While ACTRA does not concede that labor uncertainty has lost Canada any work directly to date, it’s not taking any chances. Two months ago the union put into place a “continuation understanding” provision to allay the fears of companies whose production would have run over the IPA expiration date of Jan. 16.

Deal points

In addition to the wage increases of 3% for year one and 3% for year two, the new IPA includes a guaranteed hourly rate for cash extras and terms for those producing for the Internet.

When they sat down on Oct. 16 the two sides initially set a deadline of Dec. 21. At the table was ACTRA, which represents 18,000 actors across the country, the Association des producteurs de films et de television du Quebec (APFTQ), which represents 150 Quebec-based production companies, and the CFTPA, which represents 400 Canuck production companies.

The next step is to send the new IPA for ratification by the constituents. The Canadian film and television industry is valued at C$4.4 billion ($2.8 billion) per year.

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