...and then the big Aussie Union wizards got grumpy with The Hobbit...

…and then the big Aussie Union wizards got grumpy with The Hobbit…

Irregular?” might be the opening line of a laxative advertisement and I have to admit that this issue of Aussie unions being allowed to muscle in on a New Zealand company producing a movie in New Zealand has about the same effect on me as a good laxative…

Regardless of whether Peter Jackson pays union rates that the Australian and US unions are happy with, this is a New Zealand domestic matter to be resolved and not the business of a couple of overseas unions that have probably done more to skittle the movie business over the decades than movie pirates.  the crux of the matter, as summarised by the Dominion Post this morning, relates to conditions of work:

If film crews were hired as employees, with a contractual promise of ongoing employment, there would be no film industry, he said. “It’s an industry built on short-term work opportunities, with a finite time limit.”

Many contractors preferred being independent contractors – they were paid more, had more breaks, could claim back on expenses, and could also leave with short notice.

He would not be meeting unions because all contract negotiations were being handled by Warner Bros.

New Zealand Film and Video Technicians’ Guild president Alun Bollinger said film workers could be fired on a whim and only one week’s notice was needed to be given by either party.

In other countries, including Australia, film workers were usually employed as employees with full workers’ rights, though they were still only employed for the duration of each movie.

At first glance, a storm in a teacup, this offshore meddling in national affairs has already cost the New Zealand film industry the Halo production, although this did free up resources for the outstanding District 9, and now risks the production of The Hobbit in New Zealand. If not filmed in New Zealand, the movie will probably head off to Eastern Europe somewhere, probably where those large meddling unions have no sway – or where incomes are so low that meeting daily rate requirements under a union contract won’t be a major drain on studio resources.

As an example of irregular activity threatening national interests, should the Government get involved? Absolutely!! Not because some Aussie whiners says so but because this issue does highlight some apparent inconsistencies in current labour laws regarding the status of employees as employees or contractors and this does need to be resolved. Whether or not it will be resolved by the Government that brought in the 90 day fire-at-will labour law ‘reform’ is another question…

Having been involved on the periphery of production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy 1999-2003,  and seen first-hand the positive effects that this production had on the growth of the NZ film production industry, it would be a real shame to see us take one big step backwards…but this is an issue that needs to be resolved by Kiwis…

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