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A step toward ending labour law limbo for factual & reality TV workers?

The signals are good.  Early reports indicate that the Ontario government’s Changing Workplaces Review will not be a waste of time, and is poised to make change for thousands of precarious workers including those who work in factual/reality TV and video production.

The CBC is reporting that the review is now in the hands of the Wynne cabinet, and among the changes it will recommend are:

-Paid sick days for all employees.
-Ending some of the exemptions (loopholes) under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act; (no word yet if this will include the exemption given the entire Film and Television Industry.)
-Changing the classification of ‘independent contractors’ to ensure that they get some protection by labour laws.

The ‘independent contractor’ classification has kept many workers in our industry, and others, unjustly excluded from legal protections, including paid overtime, holidays, robust safety rules and the right to unionize.  It’s the no-obligation, no-rules approach to employment. 

Last month, we saw just how alluring it is for producers to use the ‘independent contractor’ loophole against their own people.  Blue Ant Media (producers of ‘Cottage Life TV’ and several nature and wildlife programs) suddenly announced on April 27 that it was laying off six employees and going to an ‘independent production model’, meaning future workers will be engaged as independent contractors instead of employees.  Most of those laid-off had more than 10 years’ experience with the company.  We’re being asked to believe that this flexibility is vital in the dog-eat-dog world of producing programming for the beleaguered broadcasters.  

In contrast, we also have seen a progressive example of fairness in media employment, even when the work is project-based or temporary.  In the new deal reached between the Canadian Media Guild and the emerging media powerhouse VICE Canada, there are both permanent employees and a category called ‘contract employees’ who have many of the same rights as their permanent colleagues.  That means contract employees have a defined work week, overtime, paid holidays, paid personal emergency days, and a permanent job after 12 months.  And because the vast majority of those at VICE are classified as employees, they were legally able to unionize.  None of that would be true if they were defined as independent contractors.

We know industry executives have put their own pressure on those leading this Changing Workplaces Review to keep the industry the way it is and free from the grip of labour laws.

So in a matter of weeks, we will learn who really has the ear of the Wynne government.  We will learn how extensive the reforms will be, which ones have been dropped and how quickly the reforms will be written into legislation.  If they don’t go far enough, we will need to be vocal.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reset the balance between workers and employers in the factual/reality industry and all workplaces overseen by the Ontario government.

Lise Lareau

Lise is the Coordinator Fairness in Factual TV Campaign for the Canadian Media Guild

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