Museum staff agree to 20% fewer workdays, smaller paycheques
Wouldn't be necessary if federal cultural institutions could access wage benefit, union says
Employees at three national museums in Ottawa are being asked to take several weeks of unpaid leave, equivalent to about a 20 per cent pay cut, in order to avoid layoffs.
It's all due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 shutdown at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, and Canada Aviation and Space Museum, all managed by the Crown corporation Ingenium.
All three museums have been closed since March 13.
"There's a financial gap of close to $7 million just from that mid-March to end of August period, because that's the height of our season. We lost the Ontario March Break, the incredible season we get with schools in the late spring, and of course the entire summer season at this point is in question. So financially, we are reeling a bit at this time," said Christina Tessier, Ingenium's CEO.
Unlike private businesses, federal agencies are not able to access the federal wage subsidies currently being offered.
While Tessier said Ingenium has found some ways to reduce costs, it's now been forced to look at salaries in order to close the huge financial gap.
20% pay cut
About 300 employees of the three museums are members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). The union worked with management to come up with the recent agreement for staff to take weeks of unpaid leave.
PSAC members who work at the three museums voted to accept the new deal on Monday.
Under the arrangement, employees are being given some options: some will work four-day weeks, while others can take eight consecutive weeks off over the summer of unpaid leave and will be eligible to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
"Others are simply going to be cashing out their banked vacation time, but there's been no reduction in salary or in wages, which we're really happy about, and of course no layoffs, which was the goal of this agreement," said Alex Silas, PSAC's executive vice-president for the National Capital Region.
But the union believes the museums wouldn't be in this position if federally funded cultural organizations were eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
"The Government is in ongoing discussions with the national museums on the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," the Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage wrote in a statement to CBC News.
The department said museums are responsible for their own operations, including the management of their human and financial resources.
"There's a bit of a double standard that exists when private organizations, like the Liberal Party of Canada for example, can rely on [CEWS], but workers in Canada's cultural sector have to find other alternatives," said Silas.
With other cultural institutions such as the National Arts Centre, the Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada also closed due to COVID-19, the federal government will likely have other requests for financial assistance.
"We remain hopeful that the government will come to a decision in the near future and will be able to support us financially through this crisis," said Tessier, who added that museum management will also be taking a 20 per cent reduction in work hours and pay.
"This 20 per cent reduction in work hours will impact our productivity, our ability to get work done, and because the options will create a range of times when people are away from work, it will be difficult for us to operationalize this plan and to reopen these museums."