Canada labor strife grows Accusations fly with talks stalled

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Tensions are mounting in contract talks between Canadian actors and North American producers, with both sides insisting that they don't want a strike while accusing the other of potentially forcing one.

Sidebar discussions have been scheduled for Nov. 14 in hopes of devising a way to restart stalled talks on a new indie production pact between ACTRA, which represents about 21,000 performers, and U.S. producers, Canadian English-language producers represented by the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers aligned with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec.

Talks on a new Independent Production Agreement, which covers pay and conditions for actors here, began Oct. 23 but collapsed after producers called for pay cuts of 10%-25% for minimum daily rates paid on film and TV productions shot in Canada.

Separate mediators have been appointed in Ontario and Quebec. The Ontario conciliator, Reg Pearson, director of management services at the Ontario ministry of labor, intervened in 2000 to help work out a deal between ACTRA and North American producers.

The current IPA expires Dec. 31, lending urgency to bringing an end to the impasse.

But at week's end, competing statements and documents from ACTRA and the CFTPA accompanied the latest attempts to find common ground.

ACTRA chief negotiator Stephen Waddell on Friday expressed frustration with the producers balking at mediation. He also took exception with lawyers for the CFTPA accusing ACTRA of unfair labor practice in a 110-page complaint filed with the Ontario Labor Board under Section 96 of the Labor Relations Act.

"Every move the CFTPA makes seems designed to create conflict and instability," Waddell said. "Their behavior is inexplicable and incoherent. One can only assume that they want to force a strike."

For their part, CFTPA and Quebec's APFTQ issued a statement Friday criticizing ACTRA for insisting that producers take their IPA demands off the table before bargaining can resume and for filing for conciliation in every Canadian province rather than choosing a single, national mediator to referee the dispute.

"If ACTRA is serious about bargaining, it would agree to the single national mediator instead of taking this step toward attempting to shut down the industry with a strike," the producers said in a statement.

Responding, the actors reiterated that they were complying with Canadian labor law by filing for conciliation in individual provinces, and were not doing so as a prelude to an actors strike.

John Barrack, the CFTPA's chief negotiator, also criticized the safe harbor agreement proposed by ACTRA, which would allow producers currently shooting film or TV projects in Canada to continue past Dec. 31, the expiration date of the current IPA.

The CFTPA and APFTQ have advised their members not to sign ACTRA's proposed continuation letter. The producers instead urged all parties to use the safe harbor arrangement that was agreed to during the last two rounds of IPA talks in 2000 and '03.

"We don't want a labor dispute. But you can't have your cake and eat it, too. You have to bargain, and you have to put a safe harbor in place," Barrack said.

The next bargaining sessions on a new IPA are scheduled for Nov. 28-29. ACTRA's Waddell said he hoped the appointed mediators can bring the parties together before then.
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