Saskatchewan Arts Alliance Submission to the Commission on Improving Work Opportunities for Saskatchewan Residents

Artists are Vulnerable Workers

Issues for vulnerable workers are gut problems for artists. Valued for their contribution to society and celebrated in popular culture as “stars”, the bottom line leaves many with their heads barely above economic waters.

Artists’ Work and Social Conditions

Artists often face the charge “Why don’t you get a real job?”

Artists are not like other workers but their jobs are “real”!

Artists’ Situation:

  • Frequently self-employed or employed for short time periods, referred to as “non-standard workers”. Artists often have to subsidize or supplement their artistic income with other work, thus disadvantaging their tax and security net position. Self-employment is five times higher for artists than for the overall labour force (44% versus 8%). See footnote 1.
  • Engaged or contracted to multiple employers (producers, promoters, contractors), artists have multiple workplaces or in many cases have no defined workplace.

    If employed artists often fall between the cracks in Canada’s social net, self-employed artists definitely fall through the cracks, for example self-employed artists do not have access to EI. (For discussion of this issue see Globe and Mail, Sept 9/05, TD Bank Report.) See footnote 2.

  • Many artists lack benefits for health care, insurance, income protection.
  • “Abnormal” work situations make artists vulnerable to rigid applications of social assistance provisions, e.g. if you are forced to sell your violin, an asset, how do you get back into your skilled workforce?
  • Most artists are in low-income brackets; many are below the poverty line. Like workers in other sectors, women artists are worse off than men, aboriginal and immigrant artists are likewise disadvantaged in income. See footnote 3.
  • Artists lack protection of collective bargaining rights in Saskatchewan. Québec and Federal legislation has been enacted.
  • Artists lack benefits of Workers Compensation (artists are explicitly excluded) and the benefits of health and safety supports.
  • Artists are at the mercy of the vagaries of Canada Revenue on taxation issues that do not fit artists’ work circumstances and fluctuating income levels. Fluctuations in income are common, leading to inadequate levels of social insurance and distribution of taxation.
  • Artists are among Canada’s most vulnerable workers but they constitute a highly educated and trained workforce. Over 40% of artists hold university degrees but earn on average slightly over half of the average earnings of other workers with similar qualifications.

Artists and the Saskatchewan Economy

Artists contribute to Saskatchewan’s economy and growth. In 2001 culture GDP for Saskatchewan was in 2001 $744,000,000 or 2% of the total GDP.

Cultural activity contributes to the attractiveness of Saskatchewan communities. Counting the necessity of culture to the health of society in general, there are other factors. The availability of performing arts, heritage institutions, cultural events and festivals are a decisive factor in the increase in travel frequency and the growth of tourism.

Cultural activities offer important benefits in attracting investment and industrial development, particularly where establishment of manufacturing facility plant is dependent on the continuing availability of social/cultural activity to support a highly skilled workforce.

(Above commentary derived from “Profile of Selected Culture, Sport and Recreation Activity in Saskatchewan, Statistics Canada, 1998.)

The Canadian cultural workforce has been growing rapidly and has out stripped other sectors. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of artists grew by 29% close to three times the rate of growth of the overall labour force (10%). (Hill Strategies Reports)

What will improve the situation?

Since 1993, the Saskatchewan government has had in its hands one of the most complete set of recommendations on improving the Status of the Artist in Canada (Status of the Artist Report, 1993). In 2002 the government finally brought in legislation, the Status of the Artist Act (Bill 73). The Act, while recognizing artists’ contribution to Saskatchewan, for the most part is enabling legislation. Concrete measures are required.

  • Amend the Status of the Act to provide collective bargaining rights with appropriate labour standards applicable to artists’ work. 
  • Remove the exclusion of artists from the Workers Compensation Board Act and extend WCB’s attention to conditions and issues of artists’ work situation. (See [DOC:6])
  • Occupational Health and Safety Committee be formed to address artists’ work conditions and provision of cooperative information process. (A recommendation of the 1993 Status Report.)
  • Provisions of policies on procurement, engagement of artists’ work that are fair, meet industry standards of payment and copyright terms.
  • Other changes to the Status Act should include, as recommended by two Minister’s Committees (1993 and 2003) a permanent committee to advance Status of the Artist and protect the interests of artists in, at least, the public sector.
  • Provincial Government support extension of Employment Insurance to self-employed, i.e. intervention to the Federal government policy development on EI options now under consideration within the current Federal Labour Standards Review process. See footnote 4.
  • Provincial Government support the clarification of tax status for self-employed artists. (See taxation references.)
  • Measures to support part time workers will assist artists as many are part time, often forced to take part time supplementary work outside their discipline.
  • Implementation of the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance Action Plan Proposal.


Vitally necessary to society and economic growth, highly trained but undervalued, artists have been asking for redress of inequities for a long time. SAA submits that simple measures can be taken to resolve some of these inequities.


1. Hill Strategies Research, “Basic stats about the arts in Canada”, June 2004.

2. “The growth in the numbers of self-employed persons across Canada poses major challenges for the country’s social safety net, and raises important legal, health, insurance and taxation questions. The Canadian system of health insurance, unemployment insurance, labour law and pension programs is based largely on the assumption that most of the work force is made up of employees rather than self-employed persons. Although many of these issues have been raised by those concerned with the status of the artist, the issues themselves touch the lives of a large proportion of Canada’s labour force.” A Sense of Place – A Sense of Being: the Evolving Role of the Federal Government in Support of Culture in Canada, ninth report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, June 1999.

3. Earnings Gap: Artists’ average earnings are well below the overall labour force average in every province. In Canada artists earn $23,489 compared to the overall labour force $31,757, an earnings gap of 26%. In Saskatchewan average income is $15,341, for overall labour force $25,691 or 40% gap. In the census metropolitan areas earnings tend to be higher.

In five arts occupations, median earning are about $10,000. This means that a typical artisan, craftsperson, dancer, musician, singer or other performer, painter, sculptor or other visual artist earns only about $10,000.

[A] key factor in the low earnings of artists is the situation of female artists, who earn, on average, almost $10,000 less than male artists (19,400 versus $28,300).

Artists in Canada’s Provinces, Territories and Metropolitan Areas: A Statistical Analysis Based On The 2001 Census; Hill Strategies September 8,2004.

4. The Canadian workforce has changed; no longer are traditional concepts in labour law or institutions applicable to a changed workforce. Self-employment, dependent contracting have expanded, old labour concepts applicable to employer – employee relations and standard single workplaces need to be overhauled so that this growing element of the workforce can be protected and benefited.


1. Hill Strategies Research

2. Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) see Taxation documents: Regina Manifesto, Pre-budget Submission 2005.

Resources related to artists and their status, options for redress:

Report of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Status of the Artist, 1993. Government of Saskatchewan, Culture, Youth and Recreation.

Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal (CAPPRT) (this website is closed as is the CAPPRT).

Self Employed Workers Organize: Law, Policy, and Unions; Cranford et al; McGill Queens, 2005.

Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN): Vulnerable Workers Series: see web site

Artists, Taxes and Benefits: an International Review, Research Report 28 December 2002, Clare McAndrew [DOC:8]

© Saskatchewan Arts Alliance

September 2005