Jackson: Hobbit union 'had gun to our head'

By Derek Cheng, Paul Harper

File photo / Christine Cornege
File photo / Christine Cornege

Sir Peter Jackson has today produced a letter which he says counters claims by NZ Actors' Equity that they sought a meeting with the producer prior to blacklisting The Hobbitfilms.

In a statement, Sir Peter said the letter was sent to production company 3 foot 7 from the International Federation of Actors (FIA) on August 17.

He said it stated that as the production intended to "hire performers under non-union contracts" the FIA unanimously voted to urge its affiliates to instruct its members not to act in the two films "until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance".

Sir Peter said the letter was the first time he was made aware of the issue.

"It was the first time a meeting was ever requested and it was clear from the letter, they had already voted to blacklist us, before even asking for one conversation with me.

"I am sick and tired of hearing Equity say "all we ever wanted was a meeting," because it's disingenuous - they fail to add that from the outset, they had a gun to our head."

Sir Peter said the fact the move came from an Australian union had only made him angrier.

"It just made me incredibly angry, I wondered how can a union behave like this? How could (MEAA assistant federal secretary) Simon Whipp initiate an international strike action against our film with no prior vote from the Kiwi membership?"

Sir Peter Jackson said he would not meet with NZ Actors' Equity to collectively bargain terms and conditions for the cast as he was advised this was illegal under New Zealand law.

Despite their request, the union kept the blacklisting in place even after acknowledging what they were requesting was illegal, he said.

"They are attempting to characterise their actions as an innocent request for a meeting, but the truth is they kept a loaded gun to our heads the entire time."

Govt and studio meet

After meeting with Warners executives yesterday, Prime Minister John Key said the "paramount" problem was that film workers on independent contracts could be legally seen as employees, even if their contracts specifically called them contractors.

That followed a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 on James Bryson, a model maker on the Lord of the Rings movies, who was deemed an employee, even though he was hired as a contractor.

"They're not arguing people can't be employees," Mr Key said.

"They're just saying that if someone is engaged by their production company as a contractor, they want to know if that's how it's going to end up, and if it doesn't, that has other economic consequences for them.

"They're out of here, if we can't give them the clarity. There's no question about that."

Changes 'opportunistic'

But Council of Trade Unions President Helen Kelly this morning accused the Government of manipulating the situation to push through labour changes which could disadvantage workers.

"I think the Government is being very opportunistic - they've shown a disregard for workers rights (in the past)," she told nzherald.co.nz.

Ms Kelly said the move could set a precedent.

"If this is their response to this corporation - what about the next corporation and the next corporation?

"This Government is getting angsty about selling land to foreigners - well we can't sell laws to foreigners either. We are a sovereign nation.

Ms Kelly said the discussed changes were unrelated to the dispute, which she said was "completely settled".

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the associated New Zealand Actors' Equity have promised no further industrial action will be taken against the two films.

"Clearly a group of actors wanting a collective agreement is not the issue here," she said. "What they are worrying about is financial assurances."

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