Hobbit hysteria bill

Today the government is rushing through a law change designed to stymie film workers’ attempts to bargain collectively.

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.


  1. Part of the Hobbit hype has been that ‘Sir’ Peter Jackson is creating an enormous number of jobs and how valuable the film industry is to New Zealand. You have to wonder when you look at the corporate welfare behind the films.
    Jackson and his business interests got $200 million in subsidies for Lord of the Rings and from 2004 t- 2009 he received $230 million.
    Now he’s getting another enormous handout.

  2. Don Franks says:

    Creating jobs.

    That mantra is trotted out so often, like a phrase from the Anglican creed that we used to unthinkingly chant in the church every Sunday.

    Gerry Brownlee routinely rolls it off his tongue, as though he’s made some sort of signifigant pronouncement.

    Today’s “creating jobs” doesn’t resonate much with us older people who grew up in the 50s and 60s.

    To us, a job had several components, each so much a natural part of it that we never stopped to think about them by themselves.

    A job wasn’t just a week as an extra on a film, or two weeks or a six month contract. A job went on as long as you could work, more or less untill you got a bit tired in your 60s and retired.

    A job was 40 hours a week and any more was by agreement and was paid time and a half, or double time on Sunday and triple time on Christmas day.

    A job was when you got annual holidays and sick pay and had wind up staff does for the kids where someone on the job was Santa at.

    A job was where if someone got sacked unfairly everyone would stop work until they got back. Where, when someone had a death of a relative or a bad accident, or an engagement, or a birth, we’d all take up a collection for them.

    A job was another sort of family, for many of us it was much closer than our birth family.

    I don’t know if Sir Peter Jackson has ever had a job like that but I do know that twelve or twenty four or forty eight hours polite parade ground duty as a bored wind swept extra on one of his over hyped productions does not, in any way that I recognise, constitute a job.

  3. Alec Morgan says:

    Eloquently said Don. Rings true for me. I really felt the dignity of labour in such times as you describe. As well as the natural conflict with the car industry bosses over wages and conditions we had arguments over solidarity issues (Chile, South Africa and May Day etc.)

    “Cur” or Lord Jackson is almost a cliche boss with his castle and sopwith camel planes etc. What a prick. It is quite appalling the way a company ‘town’ has been created at Weta. The definition of “job” these days has sure changed, I saw today the US term ‘permatemp’, and the “Hobbit” ammendment that appears to proscribe contractor status at the bosses whim may well come back to haunt a number of currently cheering jingoistic kiwis.

    Still if you can organise fast food you can organise anyone eventually. I totally agree with the Workers Party stand on nationalism. I was at the Telstra stadium in Auckland where thousands turned up and there were not too many pakeha cardigan wearers there, it was multi ethnic and enthusiastic. The working class should have no boundaries.

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