Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Anatomy of a Shambles

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  • Peter Cox,

    You said it Rob, and I think there-in lies the concern about the MEAA - whether they really understand the nature of the NZ industry, and whether the sort of hard edged trade unionism they're used to is something that's going to work for us.

    As Rod Oram said a good couple of weeks back, it would be a pity for us to lose the Hobbit for us to have to learn that lesson, but hopefully we can learn it without having to come to that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Yeah Jacqui: under-gunned and if the NZAE executive look 'amateur' it may be because they are, at best, a few part-time positions.

    That bugs me a lot -- on Monday the Auckland Film Society is winding up its 2010 season and we managed to negotiate venue hire, register with the Charities Commission, apply for funding from bodies that have elaborate and rigorous application and auditing requirements and manage our finances and membership with no full-time or even paid staff. Even the boring scut work only gets done by a lot of hard work and commitment from from volunteers who already have full-time jobs. (IIRC, the only paid not-even-half-time staffer our umbrella organisation, the NZ Federation of Film Societies, has is a programmer who works most of the year for the Film Festival Trust.)

    We have to run a competent and professional operation because that's what the law, and more importantly our members and supporters, expect. And too bloody right they should.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    sensible I think as it turned out. Cheap hit on unions re confrontation.

    A big part of the problem here is that you see this as about 'cheap hits on unions' ... none of the people that came down there were thinking about those things -- they were concerned about their job that was due to start this month (or started two months ago, but were stood down from).

    Seriously, this old-school, workers vs management thinking is so counter productive (and out of step from how films are made) it would be funny ... if it weren't so serious.

    EDIT: As Rob alludes to above:

    Yes, that's very unhelpful. Some people will take the role of producer on one project, help catering for another, and be an orc in the next. Continuity of work in NZ screen production, outside the major TV channels, is very much the exception.

    Since Sep 2010 • 185 posts Report Reply

  • Dean Parker,

    "we [Writers' Guild] have never, at least in the last few years asked for a 'collective agreement' to be negotiated with SPADA. We have always understood that doing so is effectively illegal for people working as independent contractors. We have operated under our own version of the 'pink book guidelines', which we are in a constant process of renegotiating and reinforcing as best we can within NZ law."
    -- Peter Cox

    The Writers' Guild sought a collective contract in the early years of the last Labour Gvt, as soon as the ECA was removed. SPADA was determined to avoid a union contract and ran for cover behind the Commerce Act's anti price-fixing clauses. Anti price-fixing clauses were passed to protect the poor against the rich. Everything gets turned on its head, everything turns into its opposite.
    Personally, I thought we could have won a legal battle and there was subsequently a crucial labour court case over an independent contractor hired by Weta workshop on a fixed-term contract and refused the usual entitlements of a salaried employee which backed that up. The court held his right to be treated as a salaried employee.
    Employers want guidelines rather than collective contracts. Of course. The Writers Guild always wanted the collective.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH,

    But I think her point is that basically that if the pink book is legal then it should be legal to have an individual 'pink book' for the hobbit producers.

    Sure, but that's not what NZAE was asking for initially, was it? And really, if all they want is something with the same legal force as the pink book, then why not just renegotiate and use the pink book? Which is what has ended up happening.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Yes, that's very unhelpful. Some people will take the role of producer on one project, help catering for another, and be an orc in the next.

    And, you know something, would anyone have been any the better off if Whale Rider director Nikki Caro or Boy producer Ainsley Gardner got slapped with a fine for mucking in with the dishes after kai at the end of the day?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn,

    Craig - I suspect any organization with a live-wire like you in it would be bound to succeed. You'd be an asset on any committee. No kidding:))

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Morgan Davie,

    *Waits for Helen Kelly to answer Russell's questions*

    *Patiently*

    Wellington • Since May 2008 • 36 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    You said it Rob, and I think there-in lies the concern about the MEAA - whether they really understand the nature of the NZ industry, and whether the sort of hard edged trade unionism they're used to is something that's going to work for us.

    There's a pretty good case for saying it's not working for them in this industry.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    My apologies Dean; before my time at the Guild.

    Never-the-less, both SPADA and ourselves have been (slowly) learning to work together more cordially, and I don't see them dodging anything from us. Rest assured if they did, we'd make a fuss and get it fixed, as we have on various other issues (such as the problem surrounding the SPADA conference and NZWG members being able to attend the Matt Weiner talk last year).

    At any rate, I agree all guilds should be making this issue one of our priorities - politically lobbying the current law, as well as legal challenge options too, and - at the very least - working on ways to make the 'pinkbook option' more workable and have more 'teeth'. On the legal front, it's debatable the relevance of the Weta workshop case to the situation Writer's are employed in - my information has always been 'not very'. Of course both the legislative challenge and political lobbying option are not guaranteed of success. For my two cents, the lobbying option was probably best with the resources we had, but that's probably changed due to recent events, at least for the forseeable future.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    And, you know something, would anyone have been any the better off if Whale Rider director Nikki Caro or Boy producer Ainsley Gardner got slapped with a fine for mucking in with the dishes after kai at the end of the day?

    Funnily enough, my co-producer on Under the Mountain got 'told off' by the production staff for washing the coffee cups when he found himself with five minutes on his hands during pre-production ...

    Since Sep 2010 • 185 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn,

    my co-producer on Under the Mountain got 'told off' by the production staff for washing the coffee cups

    Um...maybe he didn't do them properly?

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Craig - I suspect any organization with a live-wire like you in it would be bound to succeed. You'd be an asset on any committee. No kidding:))

    @Jacqui: I just sit there and look awesome by osmosis. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    SPADA was determined to avoid a union contract and ran for cover behind the Commerce Act's anti price-fixing clauses. Anti price-fixing clauses were passed to protect the poor against the rich. Everything gets turned on its head, everything turns into its opposite.

    So seek a change in the law to take account of the industry's special circumstances. Because there are some very considerable advantages to being a contractor in New Zealand, especially as regards taxation and expenses. I suspect most actors wouldn't be better off in short-term employment. Most notably, the likes of Outrageous Fortune leads. Paying PAYE on your entire $200,000 annual income would be a bit painful.

    Things are quite different in the US, where SAG provides something very difficult for Americans in irregular employment to get: healthcare cover.

    Personally, I thought we could have won a legal battle and there was subsequently a crucial labour court case over an independent contractor hired by Weta workshop on a fixed-term contract and refused the usual entitlements of a salaried employee which backed that up. The court held his right to be treated as a salaried employee.

    As I said above, that case had some special features, but as a general principle, yes. Labour's introduction of the ERA made that case viable by obliging the court to consider the actual nature of the relationship.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    For my two cents, the lobbying option was probably best with the resources we had, but that's probably changed due to recent events, at least for the forseeable future.

    Bugger.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Um...maybe he didn't do them properly?

    Shall we talk about the scourge of New Zealanders not rinsing the dishes before leaving them to dry?

    Oh, look, my coat.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Hamilton,

    Dean,

    If you had read the link provided by Russell, you would know that the Bryson case background was unusual, and...

    " even the [ Employment Court ] Judge emphasised that her decision was based solely on the individual circumstances of Mr Bryson’s employment and was not to be regarded as affecting the status of any other employee in the film industry.”

    That case would not be good grounds for prosecuting change. It's main effect was to ensure companies made the actual relationship clear, whether as an employee or contractor.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Shall we talk about the scourge of New Zealanders not rinsing the dishes before leaving them to dry?

    I am mildly fanatical about this.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    hi Ben - actually I went down and addressed the crowd.

    That's good to hear. Did they get to address you? That's what they were there for. What were their concerns? Did they seem fair to you?

    I don't think it's a cheap shot at all, to say that this huge crowd was acting like a union. They joined together in solidarity to impress upon people who were screwing up their livelihoods (as they saw it). It resembles most of the industrial action I've seen.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Bugger.

    To put it mildly.

    But I'm going with an 'I'm sure everything's going to work out for the best for everyone' attitude until I see otherwise for certain though...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn,

    I am mildly fanatical about this.

    Me too. Especially when you see what some detergents have in them. But I was being facetious above, so perhaps I should run to the coathook too?

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    I sometimes, but not always, rinse dishes after washing them. My flatmates seem to think this is weird. Admittedly, it's because, due to a lack of a second sink, I use a bucket, but the principle is sound, says I.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Graham Dunster,

    Sorry, Russell, have yet to work out how to include previous text in the way everyone else does, so here's a bunch of responses without references:

    My understanding is that none of the industry organisations (the Writers Guild, Screen Directors Guild, Techos Guild and SPADA) other than Equity are unions.

    The reason that there has not been a recent meeting between Spada and Equity is that Spada will only talk about the Pink Book and Equity want to start from scratch.

    The statement read out by Jed Brophy was unattributed, perhaps not the best way to raise questions and have a considered answer.

    You intimate that John Barnett has a history of furious emails. This does not make such behaviour acceptable. If I did such I thing I would be rightfully pilloried. It should work both ways.

    Equity has one full time employee in NZ, Frances Walsh. (ironic, eh?) She can only do so much. Hopefully their membership will increase to a level whereby a second person can be employed. Again, anecdotal stories or personal experiences of individuals linked with an organisation behaving badly should not condemn the organisation and the rest of its members by association.

    Work permits for offshore actors is a heated issue at present (Vincent Gallo etc.). Equity is charged by the Department of Labour with ensuring that any application for a work permit for an actor has been assessed to ensure it is valid (details on Equity's website). The vast majority of applications are approved, I believe less than 10 out of over 300 in the past year have had an objection by Equity. Sometimes, as in the Gallo case, the process of application is handled badly by the applicant. For some reason this year there seems to have been a concerted effort by Spada to have Equity removed from the process, although this has died down whilst the Hobbit saga drags on. I have had a DoL staffer visit me to discuss the problem so can vouch that this is an unsought (by Equity) battlefront.

    Equity was well advised not to pursue their request to meet with the Hobbit publicly. Without the resources to have a full time media liaison person on duty it would have been a fruitless exercise.

    The technicians may well be 'upset and fearful for their livelihoods'. They have their own industry body through which to address these concerns. They have chosen not to use that and their guild website has no mention of the issue.

    The Hobbit issued their NZ/Australian actor contract in late May.

    The original request by Equity to talk about a better contract was sent to the Hobbit production in mid August.

    The production issued their residual inclusion update on 14 September.

    I don't have the date of SAG's Do Not Work notice to hand but understand it was mid September.

    Peter Jackson's press release which started the public furore was issued on 26 September.

    These timelines need to be understood to allow everyone to assess how we have arrived here, now

    Actors work as independent contractors, however they do not pass the test of such a description, as detailed by Simon Bennet in an earlier thread, plus they can not do what is an essential part of being an independent contractor, which is to be able to subcontract their work to another person or organisation. Their actual real working conditions are those of an employee. If they were allowed to claim work expenses as an employee, as I believe is the case in other countries including Australia, then there would no reason for them not to be employees, which would remove any bar to them being able to negotiate as a profession.

    There's no reason that I can think of why the Pink Book shouldn't be posted - if you can explain to me how to do it I'm happy to.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 184 posts Report Reply

  • Graham Dunster,

    MEDIA STATEMENT
    21 October 2010

    NZ Equity: Industrial Issues No Longer a Barrier
    Has made clear undertakings to the production

    NZ Actors Equity remains committed to retaining the Hobbit in NZ.

    Equity says that it’s clear that Warner’s decisions on the production are extraordinarily complex, but it has done all it can to remove uncertainty around labour concerns.

    NZ Equity has made a number of concessions and undertakings to the production, including:

    1. Lifting the “do not work” order.

    2. Providing a clear undertaking that there will be no industrial action during the filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand.

    Equity President, Jennifer Ward-Lealand says, “We can provide absolute certainty that industrial issues are no longer a barrier to The Hobbit’s production in New Zealand”.

    Separately, and with NZ government support, Equity has commenced discussions with SPADA (Screen Producers and Development Association) on terms and conditions for the engagement of NZ performers on all other local screen industry productions.

    Ms Ward-Lealand said that both Equity and SPADA have approached this in a very positive spirit, and on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding on the scope of the discussions.

    She said the meeting that was scheduled to take place in Wellington last night was unrelated to The Hobbit.

    “We were seeking to update our members on our discussions with SPADA.

    “It is most disappointing that the meeting – and tonight’s Auckland meeting as well – have had to be cancelled due to safety concerns,” she said.

    “Many people are speculating that the production will be lost to New Zealand when it is clear no decisions have yet been made”.

    “We find this perplexing when we know that flights for overseas actors are already being booked to New Zealand, and their contracts have the filming clearly located here. The production office is already issuing contracts to New Zealand performers and crew.

    “NZ Actors Equity remains firmly committed to doing whatever else it can to help secure a positive decision in New Zealand’s best interests,” she said.

    ENDS

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 184 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    Making coffee and cleaning up after it is an integral part of the film industry and something everyone in the process should take part in. To that end, I taught Alan Lee how to use the espresso machine at 3 Foot 6 during LOTR pre-production. I feel if I had never imparted my Cafe Slave Guild secrets to Mr Lee then the LOTR films could have been a farce.

    Hmm, then I kinda got fired. Damn daily contracts its an outrage!

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 315 posts Report Reply

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