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Posts Tagged ‘Greg Ellis’

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

9 October 2012 8 comments

From a previous blogpost; Roosting chickens,

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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…

… 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.

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NZAG was little more than a scab-union. It’s creator, Greg Ellis, a relatively unknown “actor” may have had the best intentions in breaking away from Actor’s Equity, but he was nevertheless a pawn (a rather small pawn) in the game that the Big Boys were playing in this international industrial dispute.

Such is the role of the scab ‘Union’ – to play off worker-against-worker; to muddy the waters and cloud issues; and most importantly, to do the bidding of the Employer.

Ironically, Ellis’s naiveté came back to bite big chunks from his arse last September when he railed against one of the very issues that Actor’s Equity was campaigning on, when National announced,

Key players in the New Zealand film industry have raised concerns over new law changes, which they say could stifle local talent both in front and behind the camera.

On Friday the government announced that entertainment industry workers entering New Zealand to work for 14 days or less, would no longer have to be approved by a local film industry guild.

The move comes almost a year after the government secured the filming of Sir Peter’s Jackson’s The Hobbit through an urgent amendment to employment law, which prevented independent contractors from claiming entitlements as employees, as well as an agreement to increase the tax concession for big screen productions. ” – Dominion Post, 25 September 2011

Ellis’s bleating response,

Recently the NZAG was asked, along with various other industry guilds and unions to comment on further aspects of the new immigration regulations – this time relating to production companies applying to become accredited employers for the purposes of bringing in overseas performers.

The NZAG had several points to make, which included:

  • there needs to be more drilling down into the types of NZ employees that a business or production has. It is all very well to say a production has 25 kiwi employees but if they are all admin staff this is no use to us. At minimum a production, crew, and talent breakdown is necessary. It would be also desirable from the NZAG’s perspective to see whether the performers employed were principals, supporting cast, featured extra or extra. Again it is easy to say “we employed 200 kiwi actors on our film” but if all 200 were extras then this is not the best outcome.
  • etc,” – NZAG, 29 March 2012

That’s the trouble with scab unions – it can be damned embarressing when they forget their place and attempt to play the role of a real trade union or professional association.

Lobbying on behalf of your members is not the  raison d’etre for scab unions.

The place of a scab union is to know your place and remain there.

This is a lesson that Grant Lane, disaffected ex-Maritime Union member and organisor of the breakaway scab-union, ‘Portpro’ should learn, and learn quickly.

Like Greg Ellis,  Lane formed his breakaway “union” to create a puppet workers’-front more sympathetic to employers’ demands.

Lane insists that his “union” is independent, but this is patently untrue. Facts reveal otherwise,

  • POAL CEO, Tony Gibson, thanked Grant Lane for signing an employment agreement to cover “Portpro’s” thirtythree members,

The new deal is a partnership which rewards both sides – it delivers a productive and cost-effective outcome for the port, and well-paid jobs for PortPro members. Ports of Auckland wishes to thank PortPro for the positive and constructive way they approached bargaining, which has been completed efficiently and without disruption.” – Source

It’s unclear what sort of “bargaining” took place when, as CTU president Helen Kelly revealed,

PortPro simply agreed to all of the port’s bargaining points” – no weekend loading, no standard shifts. The contract  removes all security of employment.”

“Bargaining”? More like a good rodgering.

  • If  “Portpro” is as independent as Lane insists, why was POAL stevedoring manager Jonathan Hulme listed as a contact for maritime workers wanting to join the new “union”, or wanting more information about “negotiations”?

Since when does a senior management official become a contact for a trade union?

Such an arrangement  is unheard of in the annals of industrial relations. The only inference one can take is that “Portpro” is a stooge for  POAL (Ports of Auckland Ltd).

Otherwise, would POAL management volunteer to offer services to the Maritime Union? Yeah, right.

  • Port spokeswoman Dee Radhakrishnan said there had been no company involvement in setting up the new body, but it was legally obliged to respond to the group’s bargaining overtures.” – NZ Herald, 24 Sept 2012

Since “Portpro” has never had any collective agreement with POAL, it’s unclear as to how the port company was  “legally obliged” to “ respond to the group’s bargaining overtures“.

If I set up a new “union” called the “Funky Union for Corporate Kickbacks” and approach POAL – are they also “legally obliged” to “respond” to me? Cool!

At any rate, Port manager Hulme denied knowing “how to get in touch with Portpro” – despite  Port Spokeswoman Dee Radhakrishnan explaining that “it was so he could refer them to Mr Lane for information about the proposed bargaining”.

Bizarre.

POAL need to get their ‘cover story’ straight, it seems.

POAL and “Portpro” achieved a “negotiated agreement” just nine days after beginning negotiations. (See:  Ports gains quick collective agreement from new union)

Really? Nine days? What took them so long?

Surely the deal should’ve been signed, sealed, and delivered,  nine minutes after “Portpro” was officially registered.

After all, it’s fairly obvious to anyone with two firing neuron-cells that “Portpro” is a creature of Ports of Auckland Ltd. It is no more “independent” than my thumb is from my hand.

Such front-organisations are also illegal under the Employment Relations Act 2000. The Ministry of Business, Innovation, & Employment website states quite clearly,

What the Employment Relations Act requires

The Employment Relations Act 2000 requires a union to be an incorporated society, to be independent from employers, and to have a set of rules that comply with the requirements of the Employment Relations Act 2000

Independence from employers

A union must be independent of, and be constituted and operate at arms length, from any employer.

The Registrar of Unions may examine applications for registration as a union to determine whether or not an applicant is independent of any employer. If an applicant is not independent of any employer, the Registrar must decline to register it as a union.

Employer support for the formation and/or registration of a union will not, in itself, prevent registration. The Registrar of Unions will consider all relevant circumstances including the nature and purpose of employer support and any employer influence over the nature or scope of the union’s activities.” (Source)

New Zealanders should be wary of these kinds of  “independent unions”. They are not here for our benefit. They are here to drive down wages; reduce conditions; and increase profits for employers and shareholders.

Workers who organise such “unions” are prostituting themselves for corporate interests.

Workers who join them do so at the peril of all workers in this country.

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Previous blogposts

Lies, Boards, and Aucklandports (#Toru)

Ratbags, Rightwingers, and other assorted Rogues!

Roosting chickens

Sources

The temporary website for the NZ Actors’ Guild (since Oct 2010)

Law changes ‘could stifle screen talent’ (25 Sept 2011)

Port to hold talks with union of non strikers (24 Sept, 2012)

Rebel union signs deal with port – “a partnership which rewards both sides” (5 Oct 2012)

Ports gains quick collective agreement from new union (6 Oct 2012)

Maritime Union laughs off rival in Auckland port dispute (6 Oct 2012)

New port union could spell trouble – lawyer (6 Oct 2012)

References

Ministry of Business, Innovation, & Employment: Union registration and administration

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Roosting chickens

25 September 2011 6 comments

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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,

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“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?”

Self-employed or employee?, October 26th, 2010

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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,

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“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. “

The CTU trolls through the past again”, April 14th, 2011

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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,

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“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.”

“Applying to become a charity”, January 30th, 2011

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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”,

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James says:
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.”

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But moving along.

The NZAG criticised Actor’s Equity for daring to want negotions with SPADA.  NZAG said,

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“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.”

NZ Actors’ Guild seeks to celebrate the positive impacts on the lives of Kiwi actors, March 14th, 2011

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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.)

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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.

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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,

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Source

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“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.”

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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.

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* “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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Further reading

NZ Actors’ Guild Seeks To Celebrate The Positive Impacts On The Lives Of Kiwi Actors

The Hobbit law – what does it mean for workers?

Helen Kelly (NZ Council of Trade Unions): The Hobbit Dispute

Sir Peter: Actors no threat to Hobbit

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