Monday, September 27, 2010

Short on Rights

I wonder if people saw this story where seven actors' unions, internationally, are calling on actors not to take part in The Hobbit films after management refused to recognise union workers. The non-union contracts meant the work force had no guarenteed minimum income or standards at work.

The International Federation of Actors (FIA) which brings together those working on international projects has a good track record of fighting for decent rights of workers employed by the entertainment industry in those nations with poor industrial relations laws.

The union is fighting to ensure rights to cancelation payments to workers hired and then dropped from the production and a minimum wage and rights at work. In response to these reasonable demands the makers of the film have threatened to move production to a country they say will provide less rights to the workforce.

Jackson's statement

In a sneering personal statement, which seems to state he has been giving special bonus payments to non-union actors, film maker Peter Jackson says "It's incredibly easy to wave the flag on behalf of workers and target the rich studios." Cool, let's do that then.

You will not be surprised to learn the statement includes phrases like bully boys, or raises the spectre of a political union, although it was interesting to read that Disney do not use Australia for films in order to avoid their strong unions there. For shame Bambi, for shame.

Less interesting is the way Jackson says he is pro-union then goes on to type a rambling screed on how much damage unions are doing to film making. As Jackson threatens to move production from New Zealand he says "if the Hobbit goes east (Eastern Europe in fact) -- look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country."

New Zealand law

The most crucial point of all though is that Peter Jackson claims it is illegal for him to enter into collective bargaining with a union. If that were right it would mean the focus of the campaign should be against the state not the production at all, and he'd have a legitimate grievance.

So I looked up what the government had to say on this. They say "Unions have a right to represent their members in relation to any matter involving the members' collective employment interests. Unions also have the right to negotiate collective agreements."

In fact reading the Department of Labor website it appears that Peter Jackson's claims are very far from correct because trade unions do have collective bargaining rights and then some. So there we have it, a self serving uninformed whinge about how unions who represent low paid, or even unpaid workers, are bullying the timid little millionaire by asking for their members to be treated with respect.

It seems to me that they have a point, that actors working for Peter Jackson are short on rights and union members ought to boycott the making of the Hobbit until Jackson has a change of heart.


Montagu said...

There's a response from the studios here -
This itself is pretty boring but the comments are interestng: demands for minimum pay and conditions guarantees are a threat to the New Zealand film industry by greedy unions while Jackson's actual threat to uproot and go elsewhere so he can drive down pay and conditions isn't!

john b said...

Did you delete my last comment, or was it eaten by software? If the latter, apologies for any bad thoughts, and I'll repost when you confirm; if the former, I've got a blogpost ready to go on the subject...

Jim Jepps said...

John B: please do repost - it must have been eaten by the machines.

Becky W said...

It would be interesting to see what the recognition laws in NZ actually state and also vis a vis migrant workers, which, I would think a good deal of the people involved would be?

Jim Jepps said...

Hi Becky, if you go to the link in the post it takes you to the NZ Dept of Labor and it makes it very clear that every worker is entitled to be in a union and represented and that they are entitled to collective bargaining.

You're right that the immigration rules are important because, apparently, a large number of the actor concerned are actually members of the Australian acting union which is part of the FIA. Interestingly this has led to Jackson indulging in a bit of 'push off Aussies' rhetoric against their demands for rights.

The irony is that even if collective bargaining was not allowed it still wouldn't make it illegal for Jackson to meet the union's demands (which is his bizarre claim).

Matt Sellwood said...

As a massive Tolkien and Peter Jackson fan this makes me very sad, but it's not surprising - Jackson has always been on the right, alas.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong. If you did your homework you would know that collective bargaining is illegal in NZ. Only unions can collectively bargain. Independent contractors cannot. NZ actors are independent contractors - by choice! Get your facts straight before you sound off!!!

Jim Jepps said...

No Anon. You are wrong. Peter Jackson's claims are bull.

Jackson has a collective agreemnt with SAG contractors but then claims such agreements are illegal, the government website is clear that anyone has the right to be represented by their union - but Jackson says explicitly that he does not recognise that union - that's the issue.

He says he cannot give equal rights to non-SAG members - but actually he can make those rights standard, he doesn't not because of the law but because it will eat into his profits.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jim, the NZ government has ruled in Jackson's favour on this issue; they are very clear collective bargaining can only be done by unionized labour in NZ. It is illegal for independent contractors (which NZ actors are) to engage in collective bargaining under NZ law. What part of the above sentence do you not understand? I live in NZ and I'm very familair with NZ employment law,(The Employment Relations Act if you care to look it up)Read it and educate yourself before you sound off like an idiot. You truly have no clue about this issue.

Jim Jepps said...

Actually you're still wrong Anonymous, if that is your real name.

As the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions points out here "“While there may be legal issues to work through, these are not an impediment to an agreement for standards to be reached with the union,” she said.

Helen Kelly said that it is good to have international support for workers, including performers, in this industry and it is totally unjustified to describe the union assistance from Australia as ‘bullying’.

“After all, in a globalised economy, we are used to multinational companies operating here, and it is quite legitimate for NZ Actors' Equity to operate as a fully autonomous section of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.”

“This industry gets very significant tax breaks from the New Zealand Government and needs to address all industry issues including health and safety and the problem of non-union contracts which provide no minimum guarantees of wages or working conditions, no residual payments and no cancellation payments in the event the performer’s contract is cancelled.”

“Our discussions with NZ Actors’ Equity indicate that they have obtained legal advice that there are a variety of lawful means which could be used to establish the minimum wages, working conditions and residuals for performers on the production. A copy of this advice has been provided to the lawyers for the producer but at this stage there is a refusal to negotiate.”

Helen Kelly said that it is important for the producers to get involved in a solution to this issue rather than simply threaten to remove the film from New Zealand because of a debate about minimum standards that should apply. "

Jackson's claims are a smokescreen for refusing to speak to the union and refusing to provide decent rights to those working on his films.

He claims he can't fulfil their demands - that's untrue - he can. He claims he can't talk to the union - that's untrue - but more to the point he makes it clear he despises the union and has no interest in resolving the dispute in an amicable way.

There is nothing preventing the company giving the same rights to everyone working on the film, regardless of legislation on collective bargaining.

Time and again we have anonymous comments across the internet promoting the company line and hurling abuse like 'idiot' at anyone who cares to point out some pretty simple facts.

Instead of deliberately ignoring the points raised you might like to try addressing why the law prevents Jackson providing equal rights like cancelation payments... because there is no such impediment.

The fact is he is trying to maximise his profits at the expense of low paid workers and is profoundly anti-union despite his paper thin whining to the contrary.