“This is a unique industry for working women,” said ACTRA Toronto Vice-President Wendy Crewson (The Room, Into the Forest, Forgive Me, Slasher, Saving Hope), “and we need benefit flexibility for new parents and expectant mothers.”
“Working parents in our industry have so many big issues that need to be addressed, from the need for childcare at auditions, to fridges for breast milk storage on set,” explained actor Liane Balaban (The Grand Seduction, Man Seeking Woman). “What we are focusing on right now is how extended health care benefits can address what seems to be a total blind spot when it comes to motherhood,” she says. For example, Balaban, who is 38 weeks pregnant, was dismayed to learn that the amount of her post-natal disability pay is based, in large part, on her preceding year’s income, a time during which she had a visible “baby bump” and had to turn down acting work.
Another issue is the high cost of breast pumps, which are “crucial for a working performer,” according to Corner Gas and The Listener star Tara Spencer-Nairn, (pictured) yet are not covered under members’ private insurance plan. (U.S. SAG-AFTRA performers, by contrast, are covered for these devices.)
“After the birth of my first son, I was back on set six weeks later,” explains Lost Girl star Anna Silk. “It was essential for me to have a quality breast pump, allowing me to perform my job and still provide my baby with breast milk. Maternal health coverage is imperative.”
Nor is lactation consultation covered, which can be as essential to the health of new mothers as covered services such as physiotherapy or psychotherapy.
“Thirty-seven hours after I gave birth, I was referred to a lactation consultant,” said actor Amanda Brugel (Room, Orphan Black). “I was immediately met with an overwhelming price list.”
“Being a breastfeeding mom on set can be challenging. It’s important that we join together to ensure that Canadian performers have the same considerations as our U.S. counterparts,” said performer Rebecca Singh (Flashpoint, Fries With That) who has a nine-week-old baby and appears in Mobile Homes, a feature currently shooting in Toronto.
An online forum to discuss performer parent needs is in the works as well as a panel for ACTRA Toronto’s Fall Members’ Conference, where performers plan to liaise with union and insurance representatives about to how to prioritize maternal health when benefits are re-evaluated in 2017.
“It’s crucial for performer parents to be able to get clear information when looking into their maternal or paternal benefits options. Improving coverage levels to meet industry standards is important, but we also need to improve communications about the benefits that are available so that people can access them.” said Freya Ravensbergen (Covert Affairs, A Brand New You and Co-Chair of the Toronto ACTRA Women’s Committee [TAWC]).
ACTRA Toronto is the largest organization within ACTRA, representing over 15,000 of Canada’s 22,000 professional performers working in recorded media in Canada. As an advocate for Canadian culture since 1943, ACTRA is a member-driven union that continues to secure rights and respect for the work of professional performers.