This article provides an introduction to collective rights and, specifically, collective bargaining rights. It discusses the benefits and the complexities of legislating collective rights.

In Saskatchewan, the government is considering how to develop legal collective bargaining rights for artists. Of course, other workers already have these rights, so this is an equity issue for artists.

Not a new proposition, it has long been called for as a Status of the Artist reform. In 1992, federal Status legislation established collective rights for artists, but this applies only in federal jurisdiction (most artists work in provincial jurisdiction). Québec led the way with entrenching rights in ’87-’88 and collective rights were recommended in the 1993 Saskatchewan Status Report.

Well, it takes a while to move things along!

What are the benefits? For artists and producers these are simple. Relations are regulated, contracts are clear, costs are known, and rights are protected. And those in the “business “ get together to bargain and make the rules and process work. As well, artists’ and producers’ organizations provide the necessary support and monitoring administration.

Needs differ for artists in the various disciplines. The same solutions do not fit all. Québec legislation recognizes this difference, and provides two acts, one for performance and another for visual and literary arts. Performance /interpretative artists have concerns for rights to fair work hours, conditions of work, health and safety, underage performers’ protection. Visual and literary artists have concerns for contracting, copyright and use.

All artists gain from establishing collective rights which provide for legal bargaining, fair minimum payment, written contracts with fair terms covering copyright, use and residual rights, pension, health insurance, disability, payment security.

Why legislative collective bargaining solutions? Collective rights need to be addressed through legally recognized agreements negotiated between artists’ organizations and producers/engagers. Both have security in this legal position and a means to resolve problems. Collectives of producers/engagers have the certainty of a “fair and level playing field” and regulation within an industry or discipline. The system is permissive, but organizations are provided with a legal framework. Critically, legislation should protect artists’ self-employed taxation status.

Voluntary bargaining – the present situation! For many years some artists’ organizations, unions and associations have worked within what is called “voluntary” recognition. Through collective resolution, organization and strength artists have moved producers/engagers to bargain collective agreements. In response producers have formed collectives. Agreements negotiated under voluntary recognition are mostly in disciplines such as theatre, media, and music. Artists and producers/engagers have found that sector (by which is meant arts discipline and industry sectors) agreements work most efficiently. This is an important factor.

Visual and literary artists through organized “persuasion” have managed to establish guidelines for fees and contracts.

Neither voluntary recognition nor “persuasion” are equivalent to rights won by other workers. There was no legal protection (other than individual contract law) until the federal and Québec legislation was established. Importantly this legislation protects artists’ organizations from the threat of prosecution under the Competition Act for “restraint of trade”.

Now where are we? Once again, it is proposed that Saskatchewan institute collective rights for artists. True, the Saskatchewan Status Act (2002) recognizes the need but as only enabling legislation it is limited. The Minister’s Committee on Status (MACSA) is examining collective bargaining and has not determined a choice. Their interim report proposed supporting mechanisms for voluntary bargaining.

What can be done? SAA has long endorsed the 1993 Status Report recommendations for artists’ collective rights. These included an Artists’ Code. Elements in the Code have been partly embodied in the 2002 Status Act. What can be achieved now are additions to the Act to make these principles real by providing:

  1. Specific rights to, and recognition of, collective rights for artists and providing terms to administer these, similar to the federal and Quebec legislation, harmonizing legislative terms with federal status legislation, including protection from the Competition Act.
  2. Recognition and protection of national collective agreements that presently exist under voluntary bargaining and are recognized under federal legislation.
  3. Recognition and protection of sector bargaining in the cultural sector.
  4. Provision of minimum labour standards and contract protections for artists.
  5. Administration of these rights through the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (an inexpensive and ready-to-hand mechanism).
  6. Protection of artists’ tax status.

All could be achieved with additions to the Saskatchewan Status of the Artist Act and by referral, if needed to the Labour Standards Act.

Simple! Enact a low cost solution for one aspect of implementing equity. Not all artists will find granting legal collective rights the definitive answer, but all will benefit. It doesn’t solve other status issues such as taxation reforms, benefits, or copyright, to name a few; these remain to be tackled. Not easy, but this part can be accomplished. To gain collective rights for artists in Saskatchewan what is needed is artists’ support and the government’s will to proceed.

October 2005