10/03/2012 01:34 EDT | Updated 12/03/2012 05:12 EST

Actors, directors want contract disputes settled by Labour Relations Board

TORONTO - Actors, directors and musicians appealed to the Ontario government Wednesday to give them the same right as other workers to have their contract disputes settled by the province's Labour Relations Board.

Too many contract disputes in the film and television production sector end up in costly legal wrangling over jurisdiction, said Heather Allin of ACTRA, the union representing 15,000 actors and performers.

"The problem is that temporary workplaces and independent contractors that are normal in our sector seem different from the factories and full-time employees that the Ontario Labour Relations Act was set up to regulate," said Allin.

"That leads to disagreements, and...the whole industry has to hold its breath while legal wrangling wastes precious time and money that could be better spent on the screens."

The Directors Guild of Canada and the Toronto Musicians' Association were among the other unions offering support for a private members' bill from New Democrat Peter Tabuns, which would see their contract disagreements go to the Labour Relations Board.

"With no offence to lawyers, we need to have more of our money going into creating film, television and new media, and not going into legal fees, it's a simple as that," said Tabuns.

"This will help bring stability for both investors and workers."

Ambiguity about the application of Ontario labour law to the film and television production sector makes dispute resolution difficult, time-consuming and expensive, said Bill Skolnik of the Directors' Guild of Canada-Ontario.

"We present the dreams of our society, we're the folks that make you laugh, that make you cry, and you can't put a price on that," said Skolnik.

"All this bill does is bring us into what other workers have. It's giving us something that already exists."

The Toronto Musicians' Association said performers are simply ask for fairness.

"This bill isn't about anything other than treating performing artists in the film, television and new media area the same as other workers in Ontario are treated," said Musicians' executive director Jim Biros.

"What we're asking for is equal treatment, not special treatment."

ACTRA said passing the bill would add stability to a sector that pours $1 billion a year into the provincial economy.

"It simply makes sense for Ontario to do everything it possibly can to protect our hard-won position in a fully globalized, intensely competitive and risk-averse marketplace," said Allin.

"Let's send a message that Ontario is the best, safest and most stable film production centre in the world, and pass this bill into law."

It's Tabuns second attempt to pass his Fairness in Film and Media Production Act. The bill got as far as second-reading but died on the order paper when the election was called last fall.

Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey was non-committal about the idea Wednesday, saying she hadn't seen Tabuns' bill.

"I'm always interested, from anybody in the House, if they have advice as to how we can improve anybody's workplace, whether they're actors or not," said Jeffrey.

"I actually have a meeting scheduled with ACTRA later in the month and am interested in any advice they have."

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