Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Hobbit Wars

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    Don’t be pushed off your trail of enquiry Jacqui by “on message” producers and ‘scabbits’.

    @Alec: I know you're a relative noob around here, but make your point without the name-calling and man-splaining patronage. It's good to form to pay PAS contributors the basic courtesy of presuming what they is in good faith, and with no hidden agendas attached. If you don't know how ugly and hateful "scab" is, you should save your breath to cool your porridge.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11931 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    Kyle, I don't think this dispute is about The Hobbit or Warners. It's about grievances that working actors have been nursing for some time about perceived injustices in terms and conditions of contracts in New Zealand.

    The MEAA tried unsuccessfully to target Outrageous Fortune Series 6 as a way of introducing standard contracts of engagement for all NZ performers. SPP was not in a position to deliver on the actors' demands for an industry-wide agreement, and pointed to SPADA as the appropriate group to negotiate with. MEAA elected not to negotiate with SPADA, and faced with the prospect of Series 6 being cancelled, the cast backed down on their demands.

    The Hobbit is being targeted now because of its profile. However the goals of MEAA/Actors' Equity remain the same - the imposition of an MEAA-approved NZ-wide standard contract.

    The only way a binding contract can legally be imposed is if NZ actors forgo their independent contractor status and become employees on fixed-term contracts. I suspect that most NZ actors haven't really considered the ramifications of this approach.

    As employees, actors would be taxed on a PAYE basis, no longer able to claim for expenses against income. Their rates would be likely to drop, as employers would be responsible for ACC payments and holiday pay. They wouldn't be able to 'moonlight' or juggle multiple engagements at the same time - an employee status implies specific commitment to one job and one place of work - goodbye voiceovers, TVCs and public speaking engagements juggled around shooting schedules. As employees, they could be required to attend the workplace for the full working week, whether required on set or not. All things to think about, and downsides of employee status that I'm sure no-one has pointed out to the members of NZ Actors' Equity. I'm pretty sure they don't understand this. And I'm certain the Australian MEAA aren't clarifying this for their NZ members.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    All things to think about, and downsides of employee status that I'm sure no-one has pointed out to the members of NZ Actors' Equity.

    From what I've understood of the situation they're not aiming to place themselves in employee status at all, i.e. they've already looked at the issues you've stated above, and decided employee status was not a viable option. Though I'm not sure if they would have talked that through in any great detail with the members.

    But that's all just pretty much guess work from various statements AE members have made rather than something I'm sure about.

    I was also under the impression there was also be some legislative barriers to just 'deciding' to be termed an employee when you're effectively acting as a independent contractor, but it's not something I'm very certain about either.

    But yeah, the basic rule is that if you want to collectively bargain you have to be an employee, with all the accompanying obligations that comes with that status, and you lose a lot of advantages that come with being an independent contractor. You can't have it both ways.

    From memory, Craig Parker talked about that reasonably succinctly in 'The Nation' interview, which makes me think that at least he understands that issue pretty well.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 311 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    Although, from amongst all the bluster, a fairly consistent message has been that NZ Actors want parity with the kind of agreement their Australian colleagues enjoy. Actors in Australia are employees.

    Entering into fixed term emplyment contracts for actors is one option the NZ industry could consider. However this has drawbacks for both actors and producers. And would irrevocably change the way the industry works in practice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Rick Shera,

    @Simon Bennett/@Peter Cox

    Employee vs contractor status is not quite as clear-cut as that. You can find many examples of people who work under documented service contracts, who are in fact employees (although not so much the other way).

    Things like flexible working time, control of IP/personality/publicity rights, taking on other work outside the main employment etc can be catered for in employment contracts. Conversely, subject to Commerce Act (competition law) issues, one could even contemplate some standard industry wide service contract terms by reference to a reinvigorated pink book. But, you are right that things like payment of holiday pay, ACC, PAYE (employees) vs deduction of expenses (contractors) are bright line dividers.

    For employers this is often a no-win situation - they agree to people being contractors (whiich can often have nice tax benefits for the "contractor" by way of tax deductable expenses and income splitting via companies/trading trusts) only to find that the IRD assesses the person as an employee and comes after the employer for back PAYE and penalties. Worse still, a dispute arises and the person turns around and claims they were an employee all along by filing a personal grievance via a "no win no fee" advocate.

    It's an area that IRD is hot on and this spat will no doubt have it looking closely at whatever eventuates - here's its guidance

    Auckland • Since Feb 2008 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Rick Shera, thanks for that: very helpful and clear way of putting it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 311 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    +1 on thanks, Rick.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    They wouldn't be able to 'moonlight' or juggle multiple engagements at the same time - an employee status implies specific commitment to one job and one place of work - goodbye voiceovers, TVCs and public speaking engagements juggled around shooting schedules. As employees, they could be required to attend the workplace for the full working week, whether required on set or not.

    There are a bunch of disadvantages to moving to being an employee, but neither of these are on the list. There's plenty of flexibility in any employment contract to allow people to do outside work as an employee or contractor, and to only have to work certain hours. Heaps of people have two jobs on shift work for example.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6165 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    I stand corrected. Many thanks Rick and Kyle.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Does anyone (Simon other other people who have been in the industry) know why NZ has developed a contract culture with actors and crew? As compared to Australia which has an employee based culture say?

    Did other countries used to use contracts and changed, or have we always been a bit different? How many other countries use contracts rather than employ people for film and TV?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6165 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    I haven't been in the industry long enough to know the history. Since I have been producing TV (1997), cast, crew, writers and directors have always been independent contractors.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Writers are generally independent contractors around the world except for the US and Canada.

    From what I understand from my fellow Guilds there are some legislative reasons for this that are unique to every country. These legislations are constantly under attack and revision though. Mostly though it comes down to the reasons listed above. In the US and Canada they basically believe that their ability to collectively bargain outweighs the various tax advantages, etc.

    Why are New Zealand Actors classed as contractors rather than employees? (The only place that does so except for Canada, apparently) To be honest, I suspect they've never had a real discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of either option. I'm not sure why Actor's Equity haven't gone to their members about it. The issue has been right up in their grills for a few years now.

    PS If they have gone to their members and they made a decision about this than I apologise in full. If any Actor's Equity member floating about the forum could clear that up, I'd be mighty grateful.

    PPS It's very interesting that the Canadian actors are contractors while the writers are employees; the exact opposite to how it is here. They do, admittedly have some different issues to consider in terms of their location next to the US, and relative ease to work there compared to us, so I suspect that's played a large part in it.

    The further you get into union jurisdictional issues and the ability of people to work in different countries, under different contracts, the murkier this all becomes. The various guilds at the IAWG are currently involved in some pretty serious discussion about those issues at the moment.

    Which makes it all the more uncomfortable for all of us to see the way that the MEAA has apparently been operating in regard to its NZ Guild.

    There will be very interesting conversations surrounding this at the next IAWG meeting.

    Can't tell you much about the techos or director's guilds.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 311 posts Report Reply

  • Alec Morgan,

    @ Craig. Posted at 8:51PM on 4 Oct 10.

    @Alec: I know you're a relative noob around here, but make your point without the name-calling and man-splaining patronage. It's good to form to pay PAS contributors the basic courtesy of presuming what they is in good faith, and with no hidden agendas attached. If you don't know how ugly and hateful "scab" is, you should save your breath to cool your porridge.

    Thanks for the advice Craig. I don’t eat porridge as it happens. Your record of squishy scatology on this blog however could make one look a little askance. I am not a noob just a rare commenter, PAS is a cozy wozy civilised environment. I even won a lovely Grant Smithies book prize from Russell B a ways back. I visit several times a week for entertainment and information.

    I am well aware of the implication of “scabbit”. Are you aware of the old rather grim Jack London Ode to the scab? I had my livelihood threatened by “Sandy Mcnabs” in the late 80s so I take it very seriously. People on the the FB page “Keep the Hobbit production in NZ” were offering to work for nothing, now is that volunteerism? Not in my view. My terminology however uncomfortable for you was accurate.

    Tokerau Beach • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH,

    People on the the FB page “Keep the Hobbit production in NZ” were offering to work for nothing, now is that volunteerism? Not in my view. My terminology however uncomfortable for you was accurate.

    I don't think it was. This is not the FB page - no one is offering to work for nothing here. You basically accused everyone here who didn't agree with your position of being a scab (except for the producers for some reason). I'm personally offended by that and I've lost all respect for your argument as a result.

    Since Sep 2009 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Alec Morgan,

    Your comment is muddled and inaccurate SteveH.
    Do stop me if you have heard this one before though... it is highly unlikely that many contributors here would offer to do any work for a company not involving billable minutes or hours. Community, school, internships, domestic and other such work excepted.

    Tokerau Beach • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    People, the best approach with trolls is Nil By Mouth, mmmkay?

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2080 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Apologies for the thread necro, but the plot has just thickened. Transparency triumphs over backroom deals.

    Scoop: Ombudsman Decision In Hobbit Case Feb 2013 - Full Text

    And the predictable responses below. Not surprising since Sir PJ had to sue New Line after they engaged in a bit of Hollywood accounting.

    Stuff: Hollywood Hobbit threat to Government
    NZH: Threats fly over Hobbit document release

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4261 posts Report Reply

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