On April 30, 2015, Ontario passed Bill 17, entitled the Protecting Child Performers Act; on May 5, 2015, Bill 17 received Royal Assent, and so, by its terms, the Act will come into force in February 2016 (nine months from Royal Assets). As set out in Section 2 of the Act, its purpose is to “promote the best interests, protection and well being of child performers”. The text of the legislation as passed can be accessed here. The Act changes in critical ways the obligations of Ontario employers of children in the entertainment industries.

Effect of the Act

The particulars are set out below, but the “big picture” summary of the Act is that it extends to all child performers in a wide range of entertainment activities the types of working condition protections which have historically been associated with the collective agreements of performers’ unions and guilds, such as ACTRA. It is impossible to avoid the minimum protections afforded by the Act, but where an employment contract, collective agreement or other statute applies directly to a matter addressed by the Act and the provision in the employment contract, collective agreement or other statute provides “a greater right or protection to a child performer, the provision in the employment contract, collective agreement or other [statute] applies” and thus “trumps” the application of the Act. In short, a child performer can contract for better protection than that provided by the Act, but cannot contract for worse protections.

Scope of Application

To begin, we need to determine the scope of the Act’s application. At its core, the Act governs the relationships between employers, parents and “child performers”. Failure by an employer to comply with the Act can result in liability under the Employment Standards Act. The following criteria must be present for the Act to apply:

  • the “child performer” must be under 18 years of age;
  • the child performer must be receiving “monetary compensation” (i.e., the Act does not apply when the child performer is not being paid, or is being compensated by means other than monetary payments); and
  • the child performer must be performing work or supplying services in the “entertainment industry”
    • “entertainment industry” means either (i) the “live entertainment industry”, which means the “performing arts industry that provides live entertainment in theatre, dance, music, opera or circus” or (ii) the “recorded entertainment industry”, which means “the industry of producing visual or audio-visual recorded entertainment that is intended to be replayed in cinemas, on the Internet, on the radio, as part of a television broadcast, or on a VCR or DVD player or a similar device, and includes the industry of producing commercials”

We can see at this point that there are some ambiguities about the precise scope of the Act’s reach – namely, it is unclear the extent to which it applies to what we might colloquially refer to as the “music industry”. From the definition of “recorded entertainment industry”, it does not appear that the Act covers the rendering of performing services where what is being produced is an audio-only sound recording – but that’s not entirely certain, since the definition does include recorded entertainment that is intended to be replayed “on the radio”. Using the example of a “boy band” made up of members under the age of 18, it seems the Act would not apply to their in-studio recording work, but would apply to their live concert performances. The Act has some other drafting oddities – is it really necessary to refer to “VCRs”?)

General Engagement Rules

The Act imposes three different sets of obligations on employers: (1) obligations which apply to all engagements of child performers, irrespective of which aspect of the entertainment industries they are providing service sin; (2) obligations which apply only to engagements in the “recorded entertainment industry”; and (3) obligations which apply only to engagements in the “live entertainment industry”. The following obligations apply to all engagements of child performers:

  • Contracts Must be in Writing. All engagements of child performers must be pursuant to a written contract. [Section 5]
  • Pre-Contract Meeting and Ongoing Disclosure. Before entering into a contract with a child performer, an employer must meet with with the child’s parent or guardian (the child performer is entitled to be present at and participate in such meeting) and disclose the following information: (a) a general description of the role the child performer will play; (b) the location and hours of rehearsals and performances; (c) any health or safety hazards to which the child performer may be exposed during rehearsals or performances, and the precautions that will be taken to prevent injury to the child performer; (d) any special skills the child performer is expected to perform that require a level of physical proficiency or other skill superior to that of an average child; and (e) any special effects to which the child performer may be exposed. If any of the items disclosed at the pre-contract meeting change, the employer must notify the parent/guardian of the change, and the employer is prohibited from implementing any proposed change unless the parent/guardian has agreed to in writing to the change. [Section 4]
  • Script Disclosure. A copy of the portion of any script relating to the child performer’s services must be provided to the parent/guardian prior to the commencement of production.
  • Travel. If a child performer is younger than 16, the parent, guardian or “authorized chaperone” (who must be over 18 and have written authorization from the parent/guardian) must accompany the performer to and from the workplace. If a child performer is obliged to be “away from home overnight”, a parent/guardian (but not an authorized chaperone) must accompany the child “at all times”, and the employer must pay for all “daily expenses and the costs of travel and accommodation” up to maximums to be set out in the Act’s regulation. [Section 6]
  • Tutoring. An employer must “provide time in the work schedule for a child performer who is of compulsory school age to receive tutoring”. Details of the elements required in the tutoring will be set forth in the Act’s regulation. [Section 7]
  • Income Protection. Where a child performer earns more than $2,000 on a production or project, the employer must deposit 25% of the child performer’s earnings into trust (to be held until the child turns 18). Details of the trust arrangements will be set out in the Act’s regulation. The foregoing will not apply in situations where the child performer is a union member, and the union’s collective agreement requires that funds be deposited into trust. [Section 8]
  • Health and Safety Training. Employers are required to provide training for each child performer (in a manner “appropriate to the child performer’s developmental stage”) and their parent/guardian/chaperone with respect to the following matters: emergency procedures; restricted areas; safe waiting areas; the location of washrooms, make-up areas and “other areas relevant to the child performer’s work”; and “the procedure for identifying and reporting unsafe working conditions”. [Section 23]
  • Right to Refuse Work. For purposes of subsections 43(3)-(10) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (which permits workers to refuse to work in unsafe conditions), where a child performer is under 14 years of age, their parent/guardian/chaperone is given authority to make decisions for them. [Section 24]
  • Healthy Food. When employers provide food to child performers, they must provide them with “healthy snacks and meals … as close to the child performer’s regular snack and meal times as possible”, and must ensure that any food provided “meets the child performer’s needs in respect of food allergies and special dietary requirements”. [Section 25]

Recorded Entertainment Industry

The following obligations apply to engagements of child performers in the “recorded entertainment industry”:

  • Minimum Age. No child performer who is younger than 15 days can be engaged to provide services. [Section 10]
  • Hours of Work. The Act imposes strict limitations on the number of hours that child performers can work, which are different for different age groups: performers under two years can only work a maximum of four hours a day, while those over two years can only work a maximum of eight hours in a day. Overtime is permitted only if the child performer is a union member and the child is paid overtime rates. An employer must provide at least 48 hours notice if the child performer’s start time is after 7pm. [Section 11]
  • Turnaround Time. Child performers are entitled to a minimum of 12 consecutive hours “free from work” each day and 48 consecutive hours “free from work” each week. [Section 11]
  • Limits on Time in Front of Recording Device. The Act contains very detailed limits on how much time a child performer can spend being filmed/recorded before receiving a break (and how long such break period must last), based on the age of the performer. [Section 12]
  • Parental Accompaniment. Child performers who are under 16 years of age must be accompanied in the workplace by a parent/guardian or “authorized chaperone” (who cannot be the child’s tutor or agent), who is “accessible to the child performer at all times”. [Section 14]
  • Child Performers’ Coordinator. The employer must designate one person at the workplace as a child performers’ coordinator who is “responsible for co-ordinating matters related to the welfare, safety and comfort of child performers”. If there are more than six child performers in the workplace, the coordinator cannot also be the tutor. [Section 15]

Live Entertainment Industry

The following obligations apply to engagements of child performers in the “live entertainment industry”:

  • Minimum Age. No child performer who is younger than two-and-a-half years can be engaged to provide services. [Section 17]
  • Hours of Work. The Act imposes strict limitations on the number of hours that child performers can work, which are different depending on which “phase” the services are rendered in (the “rehearsal phase” or the “performance phase”) and depending on the age of the child performer. No overtime is permitted in either phase. [Section 18]
  • Turnaround Time. Child performers are entitled to a minimum of 12 consecutive hours “free from work” each day and 36 consecutive hours “free from work” each week. [Section 18]
  • Breaks. No employer shall require or permit a child performer to work for longer than two consecutive hours without a break of at least 10 minutes. During the rehearsal phase, the employer shall give the child performer an eating period of at least 90 minutes and shall schedule eating periods so that the child performer does not work more than four consecutive hours without an eating period. [Section 19]
  • Option for Chaperone. Unlike the situation in the recorded entertainment industry (which requiresparental accompaniment for performers under 16 years of age during working hours), parents/guardians of child performers older than two-and-a-half years of age in the live entertainment industry may designate a chaperone to “be available to the child performer while the child performer is at the workplace”. Thus, for child performers in the live entertainment industry there is no obligation that they be accompanied by a parent/guardian/chaperone. [Section 20]
  • Child Attendants. The employer is obliged to designate a “child attendant” who is “responsible for monitoring the child performers at the workplace while the child performers are not rehearsing or performing”. The “child attendant” must be at least 18 years of age, not otherwise employed on the production, not the child’s tutor and must possess a clean criminal (as defined in the Act’s regulations). The number of child attendants required to be engaged is determined by a formula which is based on the age of the youngest child performer: where the youngest performer is under six years of age, there must be one attendant for every six children; where the youngest performer is between six and ten years of age, there must be one attendant for every ten children; and where the youngest performer is ten years of age or older, there must be one attendant for every fifteen children. [Section 21]
  • Clean Criminal Record. Section 22 of the Act requires that “prescribed individuals” (to be defined in the Act’s regulations) who “may be required to be alone with child performers” must have a “clean criminal record” (to be defined the Act’s regulations). The Act is silent on why this requirement applies only to the live entertainment industry but not to the recorded entertainment industry.

As readers can see, the Act imposes a raft of obligations on those who engage child performers in the live and recorded entertainment industries. While there is some overlap with existing union/guild requirements, there are also new statutory obligations which go beyond what might otherwise be required under an applicable collective agreement. Those engaging child performers must therefore take the time to familiarize themselves with the Act and determine what additional steps, if any, they must take to be in compliance.