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The Cirque de Soleil big top stands empty in the Old Port, in Montreal, on May 13, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Cirque du Soleil’s financial collapse is claiming new victims as a group of contract employees for the famed circus troupe say they haven’t been paid for work they did before the coronavirus pandemic shut down live entertainment around the world.

In an open letter to the media on Wednesday, 60 artists, acrobats and technical workers calling themselves the Regroupement des Artisans des Arts du Cirque say the company owes them a total of around $1-million. The debt works out to an average of roughly $16,000 per person, a sum they say is significant for several of the group’s members.

The workers are demanding the Cirque give them what they’re owed or at least offer a commitment to pay.

“We firmly believe in the relaunch of the Cirque du Soleil,” the workers said in the letter. “We’re ready to contribute to that. But our motivation would be greater if the current or future managers of the Cirque du Soleil would recognize our existence and the pertinence of our complaints.”

Cirque saw its revenue drop to nearly zero overnight as live shows were cancelled around the world under government orders prohibiting public gatherings, forcing it to lay off about 4,700 employees.

The company’s financial situation is so precarious that it is unable to take advantage of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program to rehire workers. That’s because the program requires firms to pay its employees before being reimbursed.

The privately held company is now working toward a recapitalization that would satisfy creditors, who are owed US$1-billion. Two investment banks working for Cirque have set a June 8 deadline for initial bids.

The Quebec government is in talks with potential investors, the province’s Economy Minister said last week. “We will get involved to the extent that the private sector needs our support,” Pierre Fitzgibbon said.

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