TORONTO — In just the second day of talks between the union repping the majority of Canadian actors and their producers, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television & Radio Artists left the bargaining table Tuesday, calling for government conciliation.
“The proposals the producers put on the table are just so onerous and full of concessions, and there’s such a wide gap with our proposals, that we felt we couldn’t continue to bargain,” said ACTRA chief negotiator Stephen Waddell. “We need someone to come and assist the parties.”
The producers accuse ACTRA of grandstanding and say they may complain to the Ontario Labor Relations Board that ACTRA is not bargaining in good faith.
“You usually go to mediation once you’ve tried bargaining and it doesn’t work,” said John Barrack, chief negotiator for the Canadian Film & Television Producers Assn. “We haven’t even bargained yet.”
Barrack said ACTRA refused to negotiate unless the producers withdraw all their proposals.
Union’s proposal includes a 5% annual wage increase over three years and a 2% increase in insurance and retirement benefits and asks that worktime be counted from door to door instead of set to set.
The CFTPA and its Quebec counterpart, the Assn. de Producteurs de Films et de Television du Quebec, want pay cuts of between 25% and 80% for low-budget projects and per-day as opposed to per-episode wages.
“We are going in equal and opposite directions, unfortunately,” Waddell said.
Barrack said the current Independent Production Agreement is based on a 40-year-old, drama-based model developed when television was the new platform.
“We need to bring this up-to-date,” he said. Eighty percent of low-budget reality and digital platform fare is non-union because the rates are too expensive.
“It’s in my best interest to use unionized talent, and it’s in the union’s best interest to allow its members to work on micro-budget projects. But the current rates don’t even come close,” Barrack said. “You either address the new reality or you don’t. And if you don’t, you keep losing more work.”
Barrack acknowledged there is a wage gap with American actors in Canada but noted that with increases in the strength of the Canuck buck and widespread territorial tax breaks, proposals such as ACTRA’s “couldn’t come at a worse time” for the industry.
With the dollar and territorial tax breaks at a dead heat, “It comes down to price,” he said. “And if you remove all competitive advantage to working in Canada, why bother coming?”
The current collective agreement is set to expire Dec. 31. The producers have asked for a safe haven for ongoing productions to continue if a lockout or strike is called. ACTRA has offered one provided that workers receive a 5% pay increase and 2% insurance and retirement benefits.
The government is expected to respond to the conciliation proposal within a week or two. The union said the two are skedded to return to the table Nov. 28. The producers say ACTRA is imposing conditions that may make that date untenable.