Keith Locke on the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill – third reading



This bill is an anti-union bill and the Green Party will be opposing it. The aim of this bill is to de-unionise the film industry. In the debate over the last 2 days, Government speaker after Government speaker have been demonising the actors’ unions. Clearly, from the Greens point of view, we support the unions. The Green Party stands beside Actors Equity and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance in trying to protect the pay and conditions of actors. It is hypocritical for the Government to engage in Aussie union – bashing. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance is a trans-Tasman organisation, like many others in the business field, the professional field, and the sporting field, and it is welcome, as long as the New Zealand component has a proper voice in the organisation. They generally strengthen the professional body, the union body, whatever it is, on both sides of the Tasman. There are very strong reasons for New Zealand actors to be a part of this trans-Tasman union. One of them is that many actors have to work on both sides of the Tasman, so it makes sense for them to belong to one union and to have some coordination in union, work, pay, and conditions.

This bill has rightly been called the “Warners Bill” because it came out of a deal with that multinational film company. The change in this law, which is a law to weaken unions, was a condition that Warner Bros put on having the film made here. It sets an incredibly bad precedent. What next? Will McDonald’s, another big American multinational, come here and say: “Look, you can’t keep putting up the minimum wage. We are having to put up the wages of a lot of our workers because you are putting up the minimum wage, and we might pull our restaurants out.”, or some sort of leverage like that? Even the

New Zealand Herald

, which is not necessarily the most left-wing, pro-Green, pro-union newspaper in the land, has an editorial headline “Price to keep Hobbit in NZ is extortionate”, and I think that is true. It is quite a good editorial. The real villain in this piece was not the unions, but Warner Bros, with John Key, Peter Jackson, and Richard Taylor acting as supporting actors. In fact, it is unfortunate—and I have great respect for Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor and their work here—that they, along with John Key in this case, were helping Warner Bros to screw New Zealand and screw the film workers. It has cost us a lot in terms of what money had to be provided to them and in terms of the law that is being passed in Parliament. All this panic about it being a national disaster if

The Hobbit

was not made in New Zealand, the protests that Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson organised with Weta Workshop workers, and the scapegoating of the actors’ union meant that when Warner Bros arrived on our shores they knew that our Government was putty in their hands. The Government had said, basically: “What do you want?”. Warner Bros was able to manipulate the sort of deal that the

New Zealand Herald

calls “extortionate”. We do not even know where this extra $10 million to market

The Hobbit

is coming from. An article in this morning’s

Dominion Post

states that nobody knows whether it is coming out of the tourism budget, or from where. It was just John Key saying: “Here; have it.” The

New Zealand Herald

said, and I think it is correct, that although it is great to have

The Hobbit

here, and the Green Party is totally supportive of that, “it is not important enough for New Zealand to jettison part of its workplace law and compromise its economic principles.” The Government did not have any bottom line whatsoever.

Again, on behalf of the Green Party I pay tribute to the unions for what they have done throughout this whole saga. What did they do? Let us go over it. For a long period, over many months, they pressed simply for a discussion with Warner Bros on pay and conditions over

The Hobbit

production. For month after month Warner Bros refused even to sit down and talk. So what did they do next? The International Federation of Actors came in, and it is good that the federation comes into things like this because it is normal union activity. There is a lot of these bodies. There is a group called the International Transport Worker’s Federation that looks after seamen’s pay and conditions in different ports around the world. It is very highly coordinated between different national unions of transport workers. The International Federation of Actors is a good organisation. Its aim is to stop what it calls “runaway productions”. That is, a drive to the bottom where countries de-unionise workforces’ pay, poor conditions, and lower the standards in the film industry as a whole internationally. It is a perfectly legitimate union tactic, which is used over and over to put a hiring ban on a particular film or whatever in that context. There is nothing wrong with that; it is a tactic.

I will not comment on all the controversies that have taken place over the union’s public relations, timing, or all those issues, and I do not think it is useful to be an armchair commentator and say that the union did this wrong at that time, when none of us are close enough to the particular situation to know. The general tactic of trying to use union activity and union solidarity across the world to try to get a meeting, just a meeting, between the actors’ union and Warner Bros was correct. The viciousness of the response was something to behold, including the whipping up of protests outside Actors Equity meetings and personal threats, and they are listed in this morning’s

New Zealand


I want to pay tribute particularly to some of the people who were threatened—Robyn Malcolm, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and Helen Kelly—for standing up for actors’ rights, and I hope they will continue to stand up for actors’ rights. Instead of going on about union-bashing, perhaps we should have a look at the way the film industry operates in Australia.

Australia does not just dish out money to companies like Warner Bros. It actually gives a much higher contribution to local Australian-produced films. I think they get something like a 40 percent tax break—something substantial. Australia has a really dynamic film industry, and there is also a much a better relationship between the film companies and the unions. That is the sort of thing we should be working towards in New Zealand. There has been a lot of talk in this debate about the national interest. Nick Smith said that this is all about the national interest. It is not in the national interest to sell one’s soul to a foreign multinational, like Warner Bros, and rush legislation through in urgency that is both confusing and will be subject to all sorts of legal challenges, and undermines workers’ rights in this country, particularly in the film industry but it could easily be extended to other workers. The way the Green Party looks at it, the national interest is the rights of people and the rights of workers, and having legislation to protect particularly those who are low paid, particularly those who are in vulnerable circumstances, and film workers are in vulnerable circumstances. Because of the intermittent and temporary nature of their employment it makes it more difficult for them to exercise the normal influence that unions can exercise to get decent pay and conditions. Rather than having fewer rights, in some ways we could argue that they should have more rights.

I have said previously that the provisions in this bill could be extended to other workers. There is no particular reason to single out film workers in legislation. In fact, the term “film workers” in this bill covers everyone, including someone who might be employed for 8 hours a day, on a regular shift, to sweep the floor of a film set. That person is part of the film workforce and in every other respect under our Employment Relations Act he or she would be considered to be an employee. But under this bill the company can come to that person and say: “Look, if you want this job sweeping the floor, and I know that in every respect you are an employee, you have to say you’re an independent contractor and then you lose all your rights under the Employment Relations Act. You have no rights; you just have to work for whatever we want, and under the conditions that we impose.”

The Green Party will be opposing this bill. It is a bill that demonstrates

the most undermining of people’s rights that has ever been before this Parliament and the way it is being rushed through, under urgency, without the ability of employers, unionists, members of the community, and MPs to properly address the problems in it is shameful. Already Kate Wilkinson, the Minister of Labour, has admitted this by moving to make amendments in the last couple of hours. It shows that any bill like this, but particularly industrial law, has to have proper scrutiny.