Hobbit jobs row buried four years on

By John Drinnan

Screen industry body and actors strike a deal that ends friction caused by the Hobbit law.

The industrial dispute in 2010 blew up over the making of The Hobbit, which stars Martin Freeman (above).
The industrial dispute in 2010 blew up over the making of The Hobbit, which stars Martin Freeman (above).

Four years after a bitter industrial row over the filming of The Hobbit the New Zealand screen industry body Spada and actors union Equity have made their peace.

Spada has signed an agreement with the union on terms and conditions for people working in the industry - ending years of friction over replacing the previous outdated actors deal known as The Pink Book.

The new agreement has been backed by taxpayer funding agencies the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air and will apply to local productions made by Spada members.

A big-budget movie by the Hollywood studio DreamWorks, The Light Between Oceans, is set to start filming in New Zealand next month and it will abide by the agreement, even though it is not compulsory.

The Hobbit dispute in 2010 was ugly, with union officials receiving threats and anti-union marches through the streets.

Director Sir Peter Jackson's interests and non-union workers said Equity was risking hundreds of millions of dollars of work, while the union movement saw pressure against Equity as an attack on the wider union protections.

Now it seems relationships between producers and Equity have settled and the union claims there is no longer a division between union and non-union workers.

However, the Labour Party is standing by its policy to reverse the most controversial aspect of The Hobbit dispute.

The Government bowed to Warner Bros' threats to move production for The Hobbit elsewhere and changed industrial law to meet the studio's demands so film industry workers would be classed as contractors, not employees, unless otherwise agreed.

The decision was bitterly opposed by the trade union movement and Labour, which depicted the deal as a loss of sovereignty and manipulation of the labour market.

Labour's industrial relations spokesman, Andrew Little, said there were wider issues about worker rights and the Government's intervention on behalf of Warner Bros had big implications for industrial relations.

Little said bowing to Warner Bros had been wrong and it undervalued New Zealand as a film location. If studios revived threats to stop making big-budget movies in New Zealand it would illustrate the need for the law change to be reversed.

Little rejected suggestions from Spada executive director Sandy Gildea that the ill-feeling from 2010 had gone.

Spada executive director Sandy Gildea said any attempt to reverse what some call The Hobbit law would be counterproductive at a time when New Zealand was offering better incentives to producers.

"We operate in a competitive international industry so it is imperative that NZ demonstrates stability and certainty," Gildea said. "At a time when the NZ screen industry is rebuilding itself it would be damaging for this to be undermined by revisiting this policy."

Veteran screen producer John Barnett - the chairman of South Pacific Pictures which makes Shortland Street - said relations had improved since the 2010 dispute with Equity. He blamed the ill-feeling of that time on the involvement of individuals from the Australian union the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

- NZ Herald

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