I think we all remember the ‘Hobbit‘ fiasco, last year. The cast of this little tragi-farce included Actor’s Equity; Peter Jackson; Warner Bros; and John Key and his guvmint.
It also included a gentleman by the name of Greg Ellis, who played a ‘bit part’, as leading a “break-a-way” group of actors (numbers unknown) and formed the so-called “New Zealand Actors’ Guild – Te Taurahere i Te Hunga Toi Whakaari“, in October 2010.
Mr Ellis formed the NZAG to oppose Actor’s Equity, who at the time were attempting to negotiate with SPADA (Screen Production and Development Association – Waka Papaho). The NZAG came out firmly in support of Peter Jackson’s views that actors and production workers were “independent contractors”, and not employees. Though, in an expression of “generosity”, Mr Ellis’ “temporary” (operating since October, 2010) website did ask,
“One of the big issues that has been at the heart of recent disputes has been the status of actors as employees on productions…
… Tell us about the up and down sides of being an independent contractor and let us know – do you want to remain self employed?”
As we have no way of knowing who is a member of NZAG – or for that matter how many members they have – it is difficult to determine what sort of response there was to that question, if any. Considering that NZAG’s existence is predicated on keeping actors as independent contractors, and not as employees (as Actor’s Equity was wanting) – what would NZAG/Greg Ellis do if their membership opted for status as employees?
Though there must have been some form of response, as Mr Ellis later comments,
“One of the things that irks us most is the CTU’s failure to acknowledge that almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors. “
One wonders how Mr Ellis arrived at the conclusion that “almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors”?
How many members does this so-called “Guild” actually have? It can’t be that many, as they have registered themselves – not as a Union, but as a charity,
“Just sent off an online application to become a registered charity. That means that people can make donations to us and have them classed as charitable donations by the IRD.”
I’m not even sure if this is legal?! It certainly begs the question as to how an organisation dedicated to the advancement of it’s own members can be classed as a charity?
It certainly puts paid to one of the posters on the NZAG’s blogsite, who believes that the NZAG is some kind of “union”,
October 27, 2010 at 10:49 am
“Truth to the membership and real principles based on the strength of coming together are the base of every union.”
But moving along.
The NZAG criticised Actor’s Equity for daring to want negotions with SPADA. NZAG said,
“The NZ Actors’ Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles. The actors in the roles of stand-ins and doubles are also on generous contracts for extended periods of time and there will be the opportunity for a large number of performers to benefit from extra roles, giving many actors valuable experience and an ongoing income in uncertain times…
… So New Zealand actors will be rubbing shoulders with overseas counterparts but Kiwis are present in this Hollywood film in large numbers and this is to be celebrated.”
According to NZAG/Greg Ellis, Actor’s Equity were firmly cast as the “bad guys” in this affair. Actor’s Equity had no right to demand negotiations to improve the conditions of actors and other staff. After all, as NZAG claimed, “almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors”.
The government, led by our unfeasibly popular Prime Minister, John “The Baptist” Key, acted accordingly. They fulfilled their cameo-role as The Guvmint , and amended legislation that ensured that actors and other movie staff were independent contractors – not employees. At the stroke of a legislative pen, the rights of an entire class of New Zealand workers was taken away.
The Employment Relations Act 2000 was amended via the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill, introduced to Parliament on 28 October, last year, under Urgency*, as part of a deal between Warner Bros and Government ministers to keep ‘The Hobbit‘ film production in New Zealand. (Though, as was later discovered in an email from Peter Jackson, there was little likelihood of the production actually moving overseas.)
The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act made film industry workers independent contractors by default, avoiding the definition in current employment legislation of what constitutes an “employee”.
Just imagine, you are an employee on Friday, with four weeks annual leave; sick pay; the right to join a Union if you so wish; and job security.
Then you arrive at work on Monday and, by Government decree, you are now classed as an independent contractor. No more annual leave; no more sick pay; no more job security. And because you’re an independent contractor, the law forbids you the choice of belonging to a Union.
Yes, my fellow New Zealanders, that is precisely what happened.
When the media enquired further, Gerry Brownlee’s office stated that, “the Government was comfortable with its action and would not be commenting further“. Source. Yeah, I’ll bet they didn’t want to comment further!
However, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for,
“New Zealand Actors’ Guild secretary Greg Ellis said the changes could see local talent overlooked. “New Zealand may become merely a filming location and the creativity and innovation currently present in our creative sector could be lost.”
Oh, good lord, the IRONY! Greg Ellis complaining about a law change that will impact on local actors’ working rights – when he himself led the charge for a breakaway “Actors Guild” from Actor’s Equity – in support of Peter Jackson and Warner Bros!?!? And then the government amended employment laws to suit Warner Bros?!?!
The casualisation and erosion of actor’s rights in New Zealand started with National caving in to threats from certain quarters, in October last year, and Mr Ellis certainly played his part (albeit minor, perhaps) in undermining Actor’s Equity.
In fact, let me remind Mr Ellis about his comments last year;
“Actors’ Equity claims 600 members were reported to be unhappy about the casting of New Zealand roles in The Hobbit, but Actors’ Guild chairman Greg Ellis was pleased as punch.
“The NZ Actors’ Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles. ” Source
Mr Ellis’s colleague in the breakaway “Guild/Union/Charity”, also seemed to be quite pleased back in March of this year, when we crowed,
“”I have a great contract and awesome working conditions and a performance fee that is almost double my ‘day job’ wage,” says guild member Gareth Ruck.
“I look at the hundreds of fellow actors and crew members I’m working with and think how bad it could have been if Equity had its way.”" Source
I wonder if Mr Ruck will still be as happy if this government pushes through with it’s Bill? And just how much better would it have been had Actor’s Equity “had its way”?
And I think Mr Ellis was being somewhat optimistic when he naively expressed this sentiment,
““I think that an actor’s destiny needs to be controlled by New Zealand actors who are aware of our industry. There’s no point having people outside the country deciding our destiny, especially not people like Helen Kelly who don’t understand how our industry works or the relations inside it.” ” Source
There is nothing quite so dangerous as a person with good intentions, but wholly misguided in his actions, and in attempting to help others has played into the hands of interests that he does not fully understand. In fighting Actor’s Equity, Mr Ellis and his NZAG have been well and truly ‘played‘ by government, Warner Bros, and Peter Jackson (who would tolerate no intrusion into his private movie-making empire).
Look out the window, Mr Ellis, Mr Ruck, et al – your chickens have come home to roost.
* “Urgency” in Parliamentary terms means that thre Government’s Bill does not go to a Select Committee for public discussion; the public has no say on the contents of the Bill; and Parliament has no oversight. It is “rammed” through, simply bcause the Government can do it – it has the numbers. It also means that the Bill can contain horrendous mistakes (as has happened in the past), and the public is powerless if they disagree with the Bill, or any aspect of it.
This current government has passsed more laws through “Urgency” than any other in recent history.
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