27 Oct 2017

Actors welcome 'Hobbit Law' repeal plan

From Checkpoint, 5:50 pm on 27 October 2017

New Zealand actors are welcoming plans to scrap the so-called 'Hobbit Law' that prevents film workers from collective bargaining.

030314. Photo Weta Digital. Still images from the Hobbit, Desolation of Smaug

 Still image from The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Photo: WETA DIGITAL

Labour has said it will repeal The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010, which was introduced after a bitter industrial dispute between some unions and the movie giant Warner Brothers - including Sir Peter Jackson.

In October 2010, the John Key-led government did a deal with Warner Bros to ensure the Hobbit films stayed in New Zealand.

It offered the studio giant bigger subsidies to make films in New Zealand, costing it another $33.5 million, and agreed to the labour law changes, which were passed under urgency.

The government claimed the law changes were the result of uncertainty caused by several unions boycotting the Hobbit films.

But it was later revealed that an agreement had already been signed ending the dispute, and the government knew that when it passed the legislation.

Actress and president of Equity New Zealand Jennifer Ward-Lealand said the time of the boycotts was 'horribly extreme' and the law should never have been passed.

"That certainly wasn't something that we were challenging at all at the time... a change to the employment status of actors.

"We were just looking at the terms and conditions on the movies being equal to our overseas colleagues, so that law sort of literally came out of left-field."

She said the law led to a significant deterioration in conditions for workers in the film industry and repealing it would stop the 'race to the bottom' actors faced.

"I think there were so many scare tactics that somehow this bunch of actors were going to send this production offshore when I think we all know that productions will go where rebates are good." 

Actress Robyn Malcolm speaks the Helen Kelly memorial service.

Robyn Malcolm speaks at Helen Kelly's memorial. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In a text message to RNZ, Outrageous Fortune actress Robyn Malcolm said she was delighted the law will be repealed and that she cried in the airport when she heard the news yesterday.

"It was a hellish time for all of us and I am so happy that our new govt [sic] has seen to right this wrong straight off the bat."

She described the National government's decision to change the labour laws for a Hollywood production company as "nothing short of embarrassing".

"The ONLY protection actors have is our ability to collectively bargain. This is a very unusual, inconsistent and potentially very exploitative industry. Actors really want to work and if the conditions they work under aren't protected then the entire profession is eroded," she said.

She said she wished her friend and trade unionist Helen Kelly, who campaigned against the change in labour laws, was alive to see the the news.

Labour also fiercely opposed the law change and incoming Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said changing it was a priority.

He said the law breached a number of international labour conventions and hoped legislation to restore workers' rights would be ready within the government's first 100 days in office.