Industry groups ask Ottawa to protect workers due to COVID-19

The DGC, ACTRA and IATSE are among the groups that co-signed a letter for Ottawa to take "precise action" for workers not covered by EI as more COVID-19 cancellations occur.

Canadian entertainment unions and guilds have rallied together to pressure the federal government to commit to helping contract workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, while Canadian production cancellations and precautions around the virus continue to grow.

In a joint letter, the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), ACTRA, IATSE, and the Canadian Media Guild (CMG/CWA) urged Ottawa to financially support workers in the entertainment industry who are ineligible for employment insurance (EI) for any loss of work because they does not classify them as employees under the Canada Labour Code. Addressed to the Minister of Health Patty Hajdu and Minister of Employment, Workforce Inclusion, Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough, it asks the government to take “precise action” to cover all workers impacted by the novel coronavirus disease.

“There have already been some cancellations of television productions and there are expected to be more. Production insurance is not covering cancellations related to COVID-19. Workers who are signed to those shows rely on those contracts which can range from several days to several months. The loss of that expected income would be devastating for many,” read the letter.

The federal government announced it would spend more than $1 billion dollars in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and waive the one-week waiting period on EI. The government said it would explore measures to support Canadians not eligible for sickness benefits, which would apply to many contract workers in Canadian film and TV.

Production on Riverdale in Vancouver was suspended on Wednesday (March 11), after a team member on set was exposed to the virus, while reports have surfaced that Apple TV+ series See, three CBS pilots and Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, which are all shot in Ontario, have halted production, as well as The Flash in Vancouver. No Canadian-owned productions have suspended operations as of press time.

The Canadian Film Fest has officially postponed its March event. Founder and executive director Bern Euler said it will reimburse tickets sold in a statement. “We’re working with our theatre partner to figure out the best dates so that we can all celebrate the fantastic films of our incredibly talented filmmakers in a safe environment and as soon as that’s figured out, we’ll let everyone know,” said Euler.

Prodco and distributor Entertainment One, which has offices in Toronto, L.A. and London, and talent agency Oscars Abrams Zimel & Associates have asked employees to work from home.

The Letterkenny live tour has been postponed as of Thursday (March 12), beginning with its stop in Buffalo, NY. “The health and well-being of the fans and everyone involved with the tour is top of mind, and as such we feel that exercising extreme caution is the best decision for the safety of all,” read the statement.

The tour, which began in Moncton, N.B., on Feb. 27, was set to run until April 21, with shows in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria now postponed.

International broadcasters have felt the effect of COVID-19 with the cancellation of the annual L.A. Screenings event, which gives buyers a look at U.S. series prime to acquire for their programming.

Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures, ViacomCBS and Warner Bros. released a collective statement that they would “explore alternative options” to help clients avoid international travel, and would reach out individually regarding future screening plans.

Canadian sports networks such as Bell Media’s TSN/RDS and Rogers Media’s Sportsnet have had to rethink their programming in light of the NBA and NHL, and a growing amount of sports leagues, suspending their seasons. Sportsnet released a statement that it had “contingency programs in place” while TSN stated scheduling changes would be made on its website as programming changes are confirmed.

Cineplex theatres and the TIFF Bell Lightbox remain open, but both companies have sent out notices to customers regarding COVID-19. TIFF has implemented a social distancing policy, on the suggestion of public health officials. It will sell tickets three seats apart to maintain six feet of distance between patrons and close its smallest theatre, reducing the number of tickets sold per screening. The policy begins today (March 13) and will last four weeks. Both Cineplex and TIFF have stated they have increased their cleaning procedures in the meantime and ask customers who not come to the theatre if they feel unwell.

The news follows a day when both the 49th annual Junos in Saskatoon and 8th annual Canadian Screen Week in Toronto, including the broadcast gala, were cancelled.

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