The Agency Sector and Canadian Performers

The Agency Sector and Canadian Performers


Since the 1960s there has been a contract in place between the union the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) and a joint negotiating team of the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA), representing clients, and the ICA, representing agencies.  This contract seeks to set the terms and conditions of hiring Canadian performers for their services in advertising.  Negotiations on these terms takes place approximately every 3 years.  These terms are known as the National Commercial Agreement (NCA).

  • To benefit from the NCA a business becomes a “signatory” by signing a Letter of Adherence to the NCA.
  • Becoming a signatory means exclusively using ACTRA members and not non-union performers.  In return ACTRA should only give access to its members to signatories.
  • The NCA gave commercial advantage to signatory agencies, as it was the only way to access quality ACTRA performers.
  • No client has ever been a signatory to the NCA, instead accessing Canadian performers via their agency.

The issue facing the industry today

In 2008 the parties agreed to support Canadian performers in getting hired for commercials produced by non-Canadian agencies.  The mechanic of this was for the non-Canadian content producer to gain temporary access to the NCA by using the proxy-signatory status of a payroll company, not requiring these non-Canadian companies become full signatories: Article 3005 of the NCA was created.

  • ACTRA solely controls the payroll company access via contracts agreed with them.
  • Since 2008, ACTRA has allowed the payroll companies to provide temporary NCA access to Canadian agencies, clients, media owners, production companies alongside non-Canadian agencies, thereby creating a loophole in the NCA.

The impact of the loophole

Since 2008, no new Canadian agency has become a signatory, they don’t need to.  They can access ACTRA performers when needed via a payroll company and use non-union talent when they choose.  Over the 15 years that this loophole has been available, work has moved from union performers to non-union performers, following the lower costs.  In turn, this has grown the quality of the non-union talent pool as performers followed the work.  It is estimated that non-union commercial work accounts for over 80% in BC*1 and 50% in Ontario*2.  With clients not being signatory to the NCA, they can choose cost efficiency in the union and non-union financials in their choice of agency.  Over those 15 years, clients have moved their business from those agencies that became signatory prior to 2008 to non-signatory agencies.  Today clients ask for the agency’s signatory status as part of their pitch process, many ruling signatory agencies out of shortlists.

  • The commercial advantage exists in being a non-signatory to the NCA.


Negotiations with ACTRA ended by mediator

ACTRA and ICA to return to mediated negotiations on July 11, 2023.

Also see

ICA Responds to ACTRA Client Boycott – March 24, 2023

ICA Fact Check: Response to Globe and mail article – March 17, 2023

ICA disappointed by ACTRA’s refusal to modernize its National Commercial Agreement (NCA) during OLRB Mediation – September 6, 2022 

ICA Fact Checks ACTRA Misinformation – July 18, 2022

ICA Responds to ACTRA Statements – June 28, 2022

The ACTRA NCA with ICA and ACA has expired – May 2022

For further information please contact Scott Knox, President & CEO, ICA

*1 ACTRA Data reported to ICA and ACA 2017

*2 ACA / ICA research February 2022