Under the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill workers employed in film production work will by default be ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees. This will prevent them bargaining collectively as prescribed under the ERA. It also means they can’t legally take strike action as that is outlawed under the ERA except when bargaining for a collective agreement. Film workers will be deemed to be contractors running their own businesses.
The new legislation states that they can choose to be employees by entering into such an agreement, but everyone knows that the reality of the film industry is that the majority of employees have no individual power. They are told they will be taken on as ‘contractors’,take it or leave it. This allows the film companies to avoid paying sick leave, holiday pay and providing other basic rights.
Peter Jackson’s hostility towards unions was plain long before this dispute. During the filming of Lord of the Rings a set model technician, Mr Bryson, had his employment terminated. Mr Bryson had been working for Jackson’s company Three Foot Six for six months when he was given a contract stating he was engaged as a contractor. He disputed this, and was laid off. Bryson took the case to the Employment Court and won. Jackson then pursued him to the Court of Appeal and won, only to have it overturned by the Supreme Court in 2005.
Now Jackson has the law change that nullifies the Bryson v Three Foot Six ruling. The amendment to the Employment Relations Act ensures film workers (so-called contractors) will have no possible legal redress.
This amendment however, changes little in practice. For one thing, workers deemed contractors haven’t been taking their employers’ to court in droves since the Bryson ruling. And secondly, this amendment can’t stop actors’ unions internationally imposing bans, as they did last month.
There is speculation that it was Jackson who demanded the law change.
This comes on top of a multi-million dollar deal for his film project from the government. The Hobbit will get an extra $33 million tax concessions and other perks, bringing the package of concessions to $100 million dollars. So much for John Key’s declaration “I’m not going to write cheques NZ can’t afford” two days earlier, and Bill English’s assurances that there wouldn’t be increased tax concessions or law changes.
Today in parliament as the law was ‘debated’ every politician who rose to speak paid homage to the wonder and joy of the Hobbit film being made in New Zealand. Oh what a marvellous thing it is, they all parroted; what a great day for New Zealand they chirped. You could be forgiven for thinking the country’s entire economy depended on the Hobbit and this was the only work available for New Zealand’s workforce of two million people.
Sure, it’s a big project and there will be over a thousand workers employed on the film. Hang on, correction, a thousand independent contractors will engage in business with the Hobbit.