28 October 2010

The price of being a Hobbit

Well, my prediction came true. The deal was done, and, as I write, Parliament is obligingly rushing through, with unseemly haste, a law to ensure that film industry workers with contracts that say that they are independent contractors will remain as contractors in law, even if the companies treat them as if they were employees! Nice deal!

A foreign company whispers 'jump' and John Key shouts 'how high!?'

Gerry Brownlee told the House that Warner Bros never told the government to change the employment law. They didn't have to. The National-led government will use any excuse to whittle down employment rights anyway. They love doing that. And this time they have the excuse of 'saving the Hobbit'.

Presumably, Warner Bros' concern was that independent contractors may (under certain limited circumstances) be able to go to court to argue that they were in fact in an employment relationship. If successful in that case, those employees could then claim holiday pay, organise and bargain collectively, and, if a collective agreement proved hard to agree on, they could even go on strike. It's a long bow, since, by that time, the filming would probably be over; so I guess that might have happened - but we'll never know.

Scaremongering about Australian unions calling strikes in NZ were nothing more than that: scaremongering.

The sad thing we learn from this is that, however glamorous an acting career may appear to be, if an actor dares to ask for the kinds of rights at work that people like me take for granted, they risk being mercilessly vilified in the media. And then summarily denied their rights by Parliament.

It also shows us that - depending on how you look at the case in hand - our legislature is either admirably flexible and pragmatic, or frighteningly ready to strip our own people of their rights... 'to ride rough-shod over people', as the PM put it once. It shows up the weakness of our constitution.


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