Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”

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Continued from:  John Key’s track record on raising wages – preface

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1. The “Hobbit Law”

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On 20 October 2010, Peter Jackson released this statement to the media,

“Next week Warners are coming down to New Zealand to make arrangements to move the production offshore. It appears we cannot make films in our own country even when substantial financing is available.”

See: Warner preparing to take Hobbit offshore – Sir Peter

It was the opening shot of a public war-of-words between Jackson and his camp, and Actor’s Equity.  An industrial dispute had been elevated to DefCon One, and things were about to ‘go nuclear‘.

Almost overnight, a mood of hysteria gripped the country; we were about to lose ‘Our Precious‘ movies to Eastern Europe, Mongolia, or Timbuktu.

Public panic reached levels unseen since the 1981 Springbok Tour, or the satanic child abuse-ritual stories of the early 199os. There were patriotic street marches (flaming torches were considered but rejected because of OSH concerns.) Union officials were harassed in public; vilified; and threatened with death. A well-known  actress – popular up till this point – considered leaving for Australia after receiving death threats, because of her pro-Union stance.

See: And everybody take a deep breath – please

It was the nastier side of New Zealand’s collective psyche which we’ve come  to be familiar with. We do ‘mob hysteria‘ very well.

John Key and National would have none of it, of course. Dear Leader acted with authoritarian style not seen outside ex-Soviet republics, African, and Middle East  dictatorships.

As the Dominion Post reported,

The Hobbit dispute was resolved after Warner Bros executives jetted into New Zealand for a meeting with Government ministers at Mr Key’s official Wellington residence, Premier House.

After two days of tense days of talks with Warner Bros bosses, who were chauffeured around Wellington in Crown limousines, the Government agreed to a raft of measures including a $20 million tax break to keep the two Hobbit movies in New Zealand.

An agreement to change New Zealand’s employment laws clinched the deal after studio bosses and Jackson threatened to move production off-shore over a stoush with the actors union. Labour lawswere were [subsequently amended].

See: PM’s ‘special’ movie studio meeting

The labour law that the Dompost piece referred to was the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill which made film industry workers independent contractors by default – thereby changing the definition in employment legislation of what constitutes an “employee”.

See: The Hobbit law – what does it mean for workers?

Even if the nature of your employment mirrors that of an employee with a boss who determines your hours of on-site work; supplies all your tools and work materials; dictates your workplace requirements, including meal breaks – your employer can still treat you legally as a “contractor”.

A worker under these conditions has all the obligations of an employee – but none of the rights.  That same worker may be deemed a “self employed contractor” – but has none of the usual independence of a contractor.

A worker in this “limbo” has had all his/her security of employment; minimum wages;  holidays; and right to collective bargaining stripped away.

In effect, for the first time in our democracy, a government has legislated away a  workers right to choose. They no longer have any choice in the matter.

All done at the stroke of a pen. No consultation. It was all decided for you, whether you wanted it or not. Only a totalitarian, One Party, regime could match such dictatorial powers.

The “Hobbit Law” took precisely two days from First Reading to Royal Assent. An Olympic record in law-making.

See: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – Legislative history

By 21 December 2010 – two months after Jackson had sent the entire nation into a spin with his first press release –  an email dated 18 October, to Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee, revealed a startling new picture,

There is no connection between the blacklist (and it’s eventual retraction) and the choice of production base for The Hobbit”.

“What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment and the ability to conduct its business in such as way that it feels its $500 million investment is as secure as possible.”

See: Sir Peter: Actors no threat to Hobbit

Peter Jackson and John Key knew precisely how to pull this country’s strings and make workers and the public dance to their tune. They managed to con workers to demand losing their own rights as employees. Well played, Mr Jackson, Mr Key.

So precisely, how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises?

Next chaper:  2. The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

See also previous blogposts:Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’, Roosting chickens

Additional

Tech Dirt: The Hobbit Took $120M From Kiwi Taxpayers – Maybe They Should Own The Rights (5 Dec 2012)

Fairfax Media: To save regular earth, kill Hobbit subsidies (6 Dec 2012)

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