Image via WikipediaSir Peter Jackson could destroy the NZ film industry, not the unions...
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) are fuming at the Government for siding with Sir Peter Jackson's stance on the union dispute surrounding The Hobbit movies.
Last week, the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), which New Zealand Actors Equity is allied with, said there had to be a boycott of the movies after the makers refused to enter a union-negotiated agreement.
Sir Peter and the studios countered that because actors were independent contractors, New Zealand law prohibited collective bargaining.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson said yesterday that the Crown Law Office advised that movie producers were prevented by the Commerce Act from entering into a union-negotiated agreement with independent contractors.
Mr Finlayson said the MEAA needed to note that New Zealand employment law was different to Australia's.
But CTU president Helen Kelly said the legal issues could be sorted out within days and were just a red herring from Sir Peter.
"The minister hasn't even talked to the union about what they want. He is basically siding with Peter Jackson when he should be facilitating talks between the parties."
It was a simple issue of a union seeking to negotiate with an employer which the CTU saw every day - only this time it had the glitz and glamour of the film industry, Ms Kelly said.
The MEAA claimed actors had been working under contracts providing no minimum guarantees of wages or working conditions, no residual payments and no cancellation payments.
Sir Peter has accused the actors' union of a power grab and warned that production of the two films could be moved from New Zealand to Eastern Europe.
"If he (Peter Jackson) moves the films...the unions are going to follow him. If they just talked then there are many things they could agree on and that's the pathetic thing about his approach," Ms Kelly told NZPA.
"Chris Finlayson as Minister of the Arts needs to get involved and get the parties talking.
Personally, I don't really know what the guts of the issue really is, but Peter Jackson seems more interested in the financial aspects of the dispute We have seen employers use this 'private contractor' label. ruse to get round collective agreements since the days of the implementation of the Employment Contracts Act for a couple of decades now. I can understand stars and supporting actors having individuaal contracts, but not extras and other stand in actors.
This dispute could destroy Peter Jackson's mana and credibility within New Zealand just like Russell Coutts a few years back during the Americas Cup campaign when he switched to the Swiss Alinghi Syndicate and became embroilled in disputes with Team New Zealand. Coutts went into almost exile as his personal credibility and standing within NZ nose-dived, despite his undoubted record as the supreme sailor in New Zealand sailing.
History is full of notable people who have tried to become larger than life and have been brought crashing back to earth, just like the golfer Tiger Woods. The Government should not have become involved in the dispute yet, not until it becomes obvious that Peter Jackson really intends to go offshore to Eastern Europe to make the Hobbit films there. Peter Jackson should be well aware that the success of his films during the last decade was made posible with millions of taxpayers dollars in subsidies. Jackson is just full of bluster at this stage. He could be the one that destroys New Zealand's film industry, not the unions. People should also realise that there is a gradual swing back to unionism in New Zealand, after the ECA of 1991 all but destroyed the union movement in New Zealand. The Clark Labour government didn't really help much in the resurgence; the union movement has traditionally fared better with National governments in power despite the set-backs of the 1990's.
I will be watching this dispute with deep interest as I have been a both a former unionist and delegate during my working life, and was in the first wave of victims of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991.
If Peter Jackson actually carry's out his threats I will be personally deeply disappointed, as New Zealand has needed another social icon after the deaths of Sir Ed Hillary and Peter Blake. Sir Peter Jackson seemed to fit the bill!
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