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Coronavirus: Cirque du Soleil artists hold protest over work contracts they say went unpaid

Cirque du Soleil freelance workers raised a symbolic tent to protest unpaid contracts. Tuesday June 16, 2020.
Cirque du Soleil freelance workers raised a symbolic tent to protest unpaid contracts. Tuesday June 16, 2020. Courtesy: Fannie Laurence

On the day of the Cirque du Soleil’s 36th anniversary, some of its employees and artists gathered in front of the circus’ marquee in Montreal’s Old Port on Tuesday to mark the occasion and to demand they get paid nearly $1.5 million they claim they are owed for services they provided before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We used to have huge celebrations with employees from around the world but today it’s not possible,” said Gabriel Dubé-Dupuis, a spokesperson for the Regroupement des Artisans des Arts du Cirque du Soleil (RAAC), which represents 115 freelance employees at the circus.

“It’s tainted by the fact that all shows have stopped. But also that artisans and creative forces at the Cirque are not being paid.”

READ MORE: Quebec comes to Cirque du Soleil’s rescue amid coronavirus pandemic

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Around 35 members showed up in front of the cirus’s big top where they raised a symbolic tent. They were joined by the Cirque’s co-founder Gilles Ste-Croix who was there to show his support.

“Once we understood we weren’t going to get paid, it added disastrous financial stress,” said Dubé-Dupuis.

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Jumping through hoops at Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia – Oct 9, 2019

Dubé-Dupuis says the federal government’s CERB program has been a great help but they want to make sure they have a full commitment that they will be paid what they are owed by the company.

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“If I’m not being paid the money I’m owed for the work I’ve done, I’m not going back,” said Susan Gaudreau, a show director and writer. “I don’t come to a conclusion like that easily, with 15 years of work.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: CERB to be extended by 8 weeks, Trudeau says

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Gaudreau says she is owed $25,000 for shows she worked on between January and March.

She says she invoiced the company according to the terms of contract but days passed and she didn’t hear anything.

“I wrote to accounts payable and got the automated response everyone had: crickets,” Gaudreau said.

“It’s a matter of respect of what we do. There has been such a lack of transparency in getting paid.”

Quebec Economic Development Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon announced at the end of May that the government is vowing to loan up to $275 million to the embattled circus.

READ MORE: Details of US$200M loan offered to Cirque du Soleil will be revealed — but not yet: Quebec minister

Under the plan, the province will become a creditor of the company under an agreement in principle between Investissement Quebec and Cirque’s three main shareholders — Texas-based TPG Capital, Chinese firm Fosun and the Caisse de depot et placement.

Dubé-Dupuis says the RAAC would like to see the government commit to weaving in a clause that would guarantee their services be paid.

“They are, for the most part, Québécois. Without them we don’t have a circus,” Dubé-Dupuis said of the employees who haven’t been paid.

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“It’s a small amount of money in the big picture. A lot to gain and everything to lose.”

Caroline Couillard, a spokesperson for Cirque du Soleil says the management team asked that the interested parties engaged in the financing process to specify in their proposals they will pay employees and freelancers — but that could include partial payment.

Global News reached out to Fitzgibbon’s office for comment but did not hear back.

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–With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise