Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"I want it all" (with apologies to Queen)

I haven't blogged for a while being in Glasgow but some issues cry out for comment.

"I want it all" pretty much sums up the attitude of New Zealand "icon" Peter Jackson. Happy to make films here if he get massive tax breaks unavailable to other businesses and labour law is changed to allow US-style employment at will. Paul Roth's comments about banana republics will have considerable truth if the government caves into these demands. Even for a National government one might have thought it would be a step to far to deny workers the rights in core ILO conventions to which New Zealand is a party-apparently not!

It is perhaps to be expected that many people are not fully conversant with New Zealand's labour law but to see a statement such as the following in a major newspaper beggars belief (well not really given the Herald's usual anti-worker stance)

"Some film workers work as contractors, meaning they can have significant tax breaks and can set their own terms and conditions".

Tax breaks maybe - although how significant is debatable- but "can set their own conditions": Joe or Jane Blogs who hold the microphone normally walk into Warner Bros and tell them what conditions they will work under - YEH RIGHT. Joe and Jane do not set their own conditions, they take what they are given and like it or lump it. Employees may have limited bargaining power but statutory protections such as good faith requirements do place some requirements on employers to negotiate. And if later Joe and Jane don't like it, or the movie moguls don't like them they are down the road. No personal grievance rights, no good faith, no explanation required, nothing. You're a commodity in this world mate and we don't need you/found a cheaper one.

The difference between contractors who work for predominately one employer and employees is pure legal form and has nothing to do with economic reality. It is a device to avoid the obligations of being an employer. That is why the Authority and courts are told to look at the real relationship.

And lets try and be a bit realistic-apart from avoiding personal grievance obligations, minimum holidays and the minimum wage and the dangers of collective bargaining (ie by workers-no problem with capital being collectivised in a company) anything you can do with a contractor can be done with employees - flexible hours, part-time, fixed term or whatever, on call employment and so on.

And perhaps more to the point as Paul Roth pointed out yesterday, if the contract makes it clear that you have agreed to be contractor it is unlikely that the Authority or Court will find that you are not- the law doesn't need changing. Peter Jackson and Warner Bros need to hire a lawyer and get them to write a clear contract - just like other businesses do.

John Key should try acting as Prime Minister and restore some national (small 'n') pride. With a big 'N' it is going down the drain - "Mexicans with cellphones" is insulting to both Mexicans and New Zealanders.

The sad thing is that a significant number of workers' jobs depend on the outcome of this dispute-yep workers, be they employees or contractors. These workers have been sitting around in limbo for many months as the moguls decide whether or not to film, whether or not to come to New Zealand etc. They deserve better and it is understandable they look to blame the union who seems to have upset an apple cart. However nothing of any significance has changed in labour law since the days of Lord of the Rings except to worker's detriment, 90 day trial periods and all that. They would do better and look at where the real problem lies-and it is not Australia or at the CTU.


  1. I'm only going to say 1 thing.
    Peter Jackson doesn't own Warner brothers. He is the director and producer

  2. I would be interested to know if there has been any discussion about how the proposed NZ consumer law changes might impact upon the position of independent contractors in the film industry or any other sector for that matter.