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Coronavirus fears shut down major film productions in B.C., workers told to apply for EI

Coronavirus outbreak: Federal government says it will help workers with no EI benefits
Responding to a question from NDP MP Jack Harris during Question Period on Thursday, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the government has taken steps as of Wednesday to waive the waiting period for EI sickness benefits. Qualtrough added that Ottawa is looking at means to help workers, who don’t qualify for Employment Insurance benefits, to make strong public health choices and still pay their bills and support their families.

A growing number of film and television productions have shut down in the Vancouver area due to fears surrounding the novel coronavirus.

Warner Bros. Television said in a statement that it is halting production on “some of our 70+ series and pilots currently filming or about to begin” out of “an abundance of caution.”

“The health and safety of our employees, casts and crews remains our top priority,” the statement reads. “During this time, we will continue to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control as well as local officials and public health professionals in each city where our productions are based.”

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READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

The statement did not mention which productions are affected or where they are based.

However, an email obtained by Global News that was sent to members of IATSE Local 891, the local union representing film and TV workers in B.C., said “approximately” 25 productions in the province were halting production.

Those productions include several run by Warner Bros., including The Flash, Supergirl, Batwoman and the final season of Supernatural — all of which are CW shows that film in the Metro Vancouver area.

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The Hollywood Reporter quoted sources confirming those shows are shuttering production, while Deadline says the Vancouver-based production of Snowpiercer is also shuttering.

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Netflix, Apple and Disney have announced they are shutting their own productions with roots in B.C., including the Jason Momoa-starring See (Apple) and a Mighty Ducks TV series (Disney+).

The IATSE email says some of the productions its members work on are shutting down for two weeks, while others will stay dark for a month. Others still are simply wrapping up early, with only a few remaining episodes left to shoot for their season.

READ MORE: ‘Riverdale’ filming suspended after possible coronavirus exposure

The email urges workers to apply for Canada Employment Insurance benefits while productions are suspended and provides other links for members to seek additional assistance. It also says the union will be extending a 10 per cent discount on union dues until April 30.

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The union stressed that no members have been diagnosed with COVID-19: “All productions are shuttering due to caution, rather than cause.”

Last week, production on the CW’s Riverdale was shut down in Vancouver after a someone working on the series came in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

IATSE shared a statement from Warner Brothers that “a key cast member has fallen ill.”

IATSE Canada and other entertainment industry unions, including ACTRA and the Directors Guild of Canada, sent a letter to Health Minister Patty Hadju and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough on Thursday asking for EI benefits to be extended to all entertainment workers, including many who are freelance and therefore not classified as employees.

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“While we are pleased that you indicate income support for those workers will be ‘explored,’ we urge you to take precise action in the coming days,” the letter reads, adding 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.”

On Friday, IATSE Canada director John Morgan Lewis wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal and provincial ministers of labour asking for “exceptional emergency measures” to support workers who will face a loss of income, including freelance workers.

He also asked for the federal government to waive the one-week waiting period for entitlement of EI benefits for all workers laid off as a result of COVID-19 safety measures, including layoffs due to event or production shutdowns, “not just for those workers who are the subject of a quarantine.”

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Qualtrough told the House of Commons on Thursday that her ministry had waived the one-week waiting period for EI as of Wednesday, and that the federal government was doing “everything it can” to support all workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film and TV industry is a major economic booster for B.C., contributing $3.2 billion to the province during the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to Creative BC.

According to Creative BC’s most recent report, B.C.-based productions account for 40 per cent of Canada’s entire motion picture industry.