"It's not my job" - and arbitrator agrees

Payroll not the responsibility of directors on a film set, arbitrator rules

THE JOB YOU were hired to do is the only job you are required to do, a production company in Nova Scotia has been told by a provincial arbitrator.

The Directors Guild of Canada filed a grievance when a production company, Nova Scotia-based Haven 3 Productions, adopted the practice of requiring assistant directors to handle the payments made to background performers or "extras."

The directors union argued the task of handling cash payments and issuing and signing cheques did not fall within the job duties and responsibilities of assistant directors.

The tasks and job duties of assistant directors were described and circumscribed by provisions in the core agreement negotiated between the guild and the production company, the union went on to say.

Moreover, the duties of assistant directors involve the artistic, creative and logistical aspects of producing a film — aspects of payroll (which included paying extras) were the purview of the accounting department as outlined in the core agreement.

Conversely, the company claimed the job descriptions and classifications outlined in the core agreement were not watertight compartments. The employer said the classifications and job descriptions were broad enough to incorporate some ancillary tasks without violating the collective agreement.

Without limitation

Of particular concern was the fact the section of the core agreement pertaining to the tasks a producer can assign an assistant director begins with the phrase, "without limitation."

And "without limitation" means exactly that, the production company contended.

The specific duties that were listed were "among" the duties that could be assigned — those listed duties did not form a watertight compartment that served to prevent producers from assigning duties that were not specifically enumerated in the core agreement.

The employer also argued that it was reasonable under the management’s rights clause in the core agreement for the producer to require assistant directors to handle the payments to the extras.

The arbitrator disagreed

In his decision, arbitrator Augustus Richardson noted Haven 3 Productions was correct in that the intent of the core agreement was to allow the producer the freedom to assign tasks beyond those that were expressly enumerated in the core agreement.

"However, that conclusion does not mean that the parties intended or agreed to a power on the part of a producer to assign any duty or responsibility to an assistant director," the ruling reads.

The design of the core agreement reflected the intent of the parties to allow producers freedom to assign workers a variety of tasks within their general classifications and according to their affiliation with either the production department, the art department, the picture editing department, the sound editing department or the accounting department.

Trade jurisdiction

As such, the structure of core agreement made it clear the intent of the parties was to demarcate areas of "trade jurisdiction" for guild members.

"This brings us back to the nub of the question: Can assistant directors be assigned the duty of paying cash background performers at the end of the day?" Richardson said. "Taken together, the work of the director and of the assistant director is work that emphasizes the artistic or creative decisions that animate, guide or realize the "production" (which is defined as a recorded audiovisual work whether such recorded work is fixed on film, tape or otherwise). None of this points to payroll, which is part of the background administration which underlies the artistic, technical and professional work."

On the other hand, the duties assigned to accountants under the core agreement made specific reference to the "processing of the cast and crew payroll."

It was clear, the arbitrator said, that the intent of the core agreement was to assign the duties associated with the calculation, preparation and processing of payments to actors and crew to workers described in the accounting classification.

"I am accordingly satisfied that the duties and responsibilities that a producer must or may (as the case may be) assign to assistant directors — whether first, second, third or fourth — do not include the payment of background performers. The union is accordingly entitled to a declaration that under the core agreement it is not part of the job description of any assistant director that they be required to draw and sign pay cheques for background performers, and I so declare."

Reference: Directors Guild of Canada, Atlantic General Council and Haven 3 Productions (N.S.) Inc. Augustus Richardson — Sole Arbitrator. Noella Martin for the Union. Richard M. Dunlop for the Employer. November 27, 2012. 24pp.

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