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Be careful what you wish for

Written By: - Date published: 3:25 pm, September 25th, 2011 - 43 comments
Categories: capitalism - Tags: ,

So it turns out that last Friday the government changed the law to make it impossible for film industry groups to stop overseas workers from being brought in to do Kiwi film jobs if those jobs last two weeks or less.

That means that any short-term filmwork, be it acting, directing, tech-work, art-running, whatever can be done in New Zealand by anyone from anywhere. No questions asked (or askable). As I understand it a lot of film work in New Zealand is short-term stuff like commercials.

And that means there’s nothing, for example, to stop a company shooting an advertisement to bring in a full crew from Eastern Europe to shoot that advertisement at half the price of a Kiwi crew. And thanks to the Government (at the request of Peter Jackson and Warner Brothers) taking the right to challenge contractor status from film workers last year, the price of that Eastern European crew wouldn’t even be subject to minimum wage.

Of course the film industry is crying foul on this – they can see how this risks decimating their incomes. To quote from stuff:

The Screen Directors Guild of New Zealand (SDGNZ) said the new process “opens up opportunities for significant exploitation” and was potentially damaging to the local film industry…

“In an industry where most television commercials are shot within a 14-day timeframe, and productions of television episodes and one-off dramas could also potentially fall within this timeframe, the new law changes effectively mean an open door policy.”

And:

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.”

The funny thing is Greg Ellis got stuck into Actor’s Equity last year when they tried to get a fair deal from Jackson and WB. Here’s what Ellis had to say about Actor’s Equity’s efforts to get a fair deal:

“They allowed themselves to become part of a bigger agenda and they were used as a tool, really, to try and make some changes and get some leverage on things.”

Among those standing to gain was the MEAA, Ellis says. “The MEAA wants to unionise the New Zealand film and television industry because that suits them.”

And here’s what he had to say after the dispute:

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.

Funnily enough Peter Jackson made it pretty clear at the time what he thought about the union having a say in casting:

Over the last 10 years our relationship with NZ Equity has been rocky — whenever we cast an “overseas actor”, we get a letter telling us why such and such Kiwi actor would be so much better in the role. In most cases we have already auditioned the actor in question, and formed our own opinions

I wonder if all those in the industry who were so quick to stick the boot into actors during the Hobbit dispute and to suck up to Jackson and Warners might be wishing they’d been more careful what they’d wished for?

43 comments on “Be careful what you wish for”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why workers must have solidarity with each another. Capital will always attempt to undermine labour, and if workers are shortsighted enough to turn against each other, all the better for capital.

    Let’s hope Greg Ellis has smartened up and learnt some basic principles about solidarity.

  2. Nick C 2

    Presumably these actors still have to get working visas? I want to know how this policy change is out of line with every other industry. If Fontera or Telecom or the Ministry of Health want to bring in a foriegner to be CEO, can a union launch a legal challenge to that?

    More importantly why the hell should they be able to? If I’m starting a career as a pilot and want to work for Jetstar instead Air NZ, should they be able to launch a legal challenge to my decision?Clearly by living in NZ these actors already have a significant advantage, as Jackson points out they probably get the first audition. If that isnt enough to land the part in a NZ production they should work harder. Your fantasy of flying in a crew of Bulgarians for a week to work below minimum wage is absurd.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Good of you to continue to work against your own neighbours, local workers and other NZ citizens in favour of international capital.

    • IrishBill 2.2

      Short term work visas aren’t generally offered to workers unless there’s a proven skills shortage or special circumstance. The shortage lists for industries are generally created in consultation with unions/associations and are often subject to minimum conditions such as minimum salary levels. It seems film has now been exempt from any such rules. And it’s not just acting positions its any film job.

      And yes, immigration would require evidence of special needed for a foreign CEO. The threshold is pretty low though. I suggest that you avoid using terms like “absurd” when you clearly don’t have a clue what you’re talking about – especially when addressing me.

      • Nick C 2.2.1

        Irish: You just proved my point with regards to work visas. There already exists a legal barrier to importing masses of foriegn labour when there is no need to do so, which applies across all industries. Why should there be an additional legal barrier spesific to actors and directors?

        If your only evidence about what is actually being changed is the stuff article you seem to be wrong. It suggests the law change is only to remove the veto power that actors guilds have for bringing in foriegn workers (and even then there is still a right to challenge for projects longer than 14 days), not to exempt the film industry from immigration law as you claim. However if that were the case I would oppose it.

        The absurdity of importing a crew of bulgarians on less than minimum wage was with regards to the practical not legal aspect. For a two week project the extra costs (airfares, accomodation) would be far more than just paying available kiwis. Its more likely to be a talent issue as Jackson suggests (unless of course you claim to know more about the industry than Jackson).

        CV – If you believe that, would you support a system where a NZ company could veto my employment contract with an international firm, on the grounds that I wasn’t being patriotic enough?

        • Colonial Viper 2.2.1.1

          Nick C, don’t be silly, but I’d like to have a veto on the outsourcing of your job to a $5/hr Indian worker however.

    • “Your fantasy of flying in a crew of Bulgarians for a week to work below minimum wage is absurd.”

      Why?

      We’re already allowing foreign fishing boats, crewed by Third World nationalities to do precisely that.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.4

      Your fantasy of flying in a crew of Bulgarians for a week to work below minimum wage is absurd.

      Then why would the film industry want these law changes? According to your logic it’s not even worth re-writing the laws and yet the film industry asked for it. This tells me that your logic is wrong.

      • Colonial Viper 2.4.1

        The new regs and ongoing threat of foreign workers will be used as another negotiating tool to keep NZ actors and film worker unions weak and disempowered.

        What a pathetic grubby industry.

        • KJT 2.4.1.1

          Just training up one of many in a long line of Indian and Russian immigrants allowed to come here to fill the, supposed, skills shortage in my job.

          We have to put up with the dangerous lack of a common language and the, often questionable, skill levels.

          The industry is in the required skills list.
          The immigration department gives the company and others in the industry unlimited rights to import foreign workers.

          Like all the others he will put up with the low pay and overwork in NZ just for long enough to get residency and move to Oz. The fact they are so eager to come here as a gateway to Australia allows the company to keep enough staff without addressing wages, training and conditions.

          There are a large number of New Zealanders who would be willing to move back home and do the job if the pay gap was not so huge.

          Immigration has allowed employers to bypass having to pay for training New Zealanders for decades.

          My experience is, that the immigration department totally ignores the submissions by employee representatives and the undercutting of pay levels.

          In the mean time I am looking for another job. Either in Australia or a different industry.
          Going back into business is not an option during yet another right wing caused recession.

      • Nick C 2.4.2

        Because they might want the law change to fly in a couple of top actors to be paid a lot of money to do an ad. Consider the current ad campaign by ANZ Bank which features Simon Baker, an American actor from The Mentalist. I doubt he is being paid $5 an hour.

        • PJ 2.4.2.1

          *Simon Baker is an Australian actor

        • Lanthanide 2.4.2.2

          What gives you the idea that those ads have been filmed in New Zealand?

          Given that he’s an Australian actor and this is an Australian bank…

          • Armchair Critic 2.4.2.2.1

            If it is NZ, one of the readers is bound to be able to tell us which city it is.
            I thought it was American, having forgotten that Simon Baker is Australian, but the cars are on the left hand side of the road, so I expect it was filmed in Australia. Maybe Melbourne?

        • Draco T Bastard 2.4.2.3

          If they’re flying in top actors the chances are it’s going to be for more than a few weeks of filming. If it’s only for a few hours they’ll probably just film them where they are using the Chroma Key process.

          So, again, why is this change in law necessary?

        • Frank Macskasy 2.4.2.4

          “Because they might want the law change to fly in a couple of top actors to be paid a lot of money to do an ad.”

          Are you taking the piss?!?!

        • Vicky32 2.4.2.5

          I was about to say, then I saw PJ already had – Simon Baker’s an Australian, and he’s making himself look like a right Charlie playing his Mentalist character in these adverts. Anyone with a memory that goes back further than 3 years (therefore having seen all the Oz programnmes he was in) and who has never willingly seen “The Mentalist” (me) will just think “Why should I think you know more about what I want in a bank just because you’ve adopted an American accent?”

    • mik e 2.5

      Nick c same BS was used to break unions move most production offshore = more unemployment which you will blame on the poor and not govt policy.

  3. PJ 3

    NZ Equity’s involvement (under the previous system) brought with it significant industry knowledge to the Immigration process particularly with respect to market testing, auditioning and casting processes. In many cases an application on its surface looked as if “appropriate consideration to
    employing available NZ entertainers” has taken place but upon investigation it is clear that
    this has not occurred. This can be for a number of reasons:

    * there has not been a bona fide nor genuine casting exercise;
    * a casting exercise/audition has not occurred at all;
    * the casting exercise did not cover an adequate number of agencies;
    * the ethnicity or accent required is in fact available in NZ when initially somebody with no
    industry knowledge would think that it doesn’t;
    * the assertion to international distinction or merit isn’t borne out.

    In any other industry, employers need to test the local market before they are able to import
    an overseas worker. The casting exercise is the way the market is tested in the screen
    industry.

    The casting exercise (auditioning local performers) is now no longer required. NZ performers will not even have the opportunity to make an impact.

    • marsman 3.1

      Guess it’s called ‘a level playing field’ in neoliberal gibberish i.e. a playing field leveled to benefit scumbags like Jackson and Warner Bros. and rip off NZ.

  4. As for Greg Ellis – yes, I recall his “contribution” in the “Hobbit” debate – and it was not helpful.

    • PJ 4.1

      ‘interesting’ that the article only quoted Greg and not anyone from NZ Actors Equity, especially considering the relative memberships of the 2 organisations.

      Here is Equity’s statement:

      NZ Equity condemns changes to the Immigration procedures

      NZ Equity has expressed its disappointment at the NZ Government’s decision to change the immigration process for the entry of temporary entertainment workers into New Zealand.

      “The immigration process that has been in place for decades, was there to ensure that New Zealand performers were provided with reasonable opportunities to work on all film and television productions,” said NZ Equity President Jennifer Ward-Lealand. “The new minimal process will now provide carte blanche for New Zealand taxpayer supported productions to engage non-New Zealand performers for any and every role. This is contrary to the Government’s stated election policy of ‘Kiwi’s First’.”

      The rule changes will include allowing producers to avoid providing appropriate consideration to employing available NZ entertainers or professionals.

      “This means that producers won’t have to first test the NZ employment market through a casting exercise to see if there is any performer suitable to do the job. If this was proposed for plumbers, carpenters or any other trade there would be a national outcry. Employers have an obligation to test the employment market in those industries. Employers in the entertainment industry should have a similar obligation.”

      The changes will focus on those entertainment positions that are 14 days or less.

      “While 14 days work may sound like a short length of time, this would account for the vast majority of roles and work in film and television – including lead roles. Periods of work less than 14 days are the nature of the job.”

      Under the planned new system a so-called “silent approval” process has been introduced where a production company no longer has to seek prior guild or union approval through a letter of non-objection.

      “The silent approval process is fundamentally flawed and will lead to significant administrative, bureaucratic and potential legal problems for Immigration NZ. This is because Immigration NZ will not require evidence that an applicant had provided the legally required information to the appropriate guild or union. The process is now open to significant exploitation.”

      “The current system has worked effectively as a critical regulatory tool for the creation of jobs and opportunities for New Zealand performers. At the same time it ensured that the specific needs of particular productions and the broader needs of the industry were taken into account. NZ Equity’s approach to consultation has also been fair, reasonable and efficient, ensuring appropriate consideration has been given to employing available local performers who as a group experience effective unemployment rates of 95 per cent. The new system will lead directly to the loss of jobs and opportunities for NZ performers. Claims of potential growth in the sector by the Government simply glosses over the fact that NZ performers will be left playing the bit parts and supporting roles and demonstrates a lack of commitment to fostering a domestic production industry.”

  5. Tigger 5

    I’ve said it before but this gave industry organisations, especially Equity, SPADA and the Techs, some income. This will hit them in the pocket – hard. And Coleman knows this. Make no mistake, this was pure payback for the Hobbit. It is nasty stuff, bitchy stuff, horrid stuff. My sources say this was due to be rolled out earlier this year – not sure why it took so long…RWC obviously makes a nice smokescreen… Also, someone needs to dig around here. Finlayson is Minister of Arts. These are arts organisations. SPADA is run by Penelope Borland, very good friend of Finalyson… Can’t imagine he would dick her like this without ensuring SPADA could still reap money or weren’t so affected by the change…

    • marsman 5.1

      More members for the dole queue for Bully Bennett to harrass. What a thouroughly nasty lot of morons National consists of, haven’t seen the like since that nasty moron Shipley.

  6. tc 6

    And in contrast to Oz, which the nat’s promised they’d catch, I believe they have extremely tough rules on foreign talent working in film/TV in their country.

    Ah that brighter future.

  7. billy fish 7

    The timing in impeccable, slow news pre quarter finals, the hobbit starting its big pr run in the press and a really good ‘bloody unions’ bashing headline. In two weeks when the hurrumphing ineptitudes of the right have finished framing the news and blogs and the reality of it being a job stealing stitch up becomes apparent well its rwc semi finals and sod the film crews.

  8. randal 8

    well they tried to organise a riot on opening night so they could call an election while the rwc was on but that fizzed. Key thought he was being smart fixing the date of the election but that just gives people more time to see through him and his popinjay posturing and feeble attempts at being a man of the people. he justa new york bond salesman who got lucky. And if he looks in the mirror and sees what the last three years have done to him then he should seriously consider what the next three years will do to him and at what personal cost.

  9. uke 9

    Last year, thousands of techies marched up Lambton Quay in an anti-actors union protest. I suppose this new employment-law twiddle is poetic justice of a grim sort. It’d be interesting to know Russell Brown’s thoughts, too.

    • Bored 9.1

      Couldnt have happened to more deserving bastards…how richly has what goes round come round. Splendid.

  10. Afewknowthetruth 10

    Yet another example of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This time it’s an argument about who will do the arranging and how much they will get paid for arranging them.

    Was there a film industry in the 14th century? No.

    Was there a film industry in 1880? No.

    Where are we headed? We are headed for 14th century social and economic arrangements (if we are lucky), via a drop in energy consumption to 1880 levels before 2025 (and perhaps by 2015 if the globalised system collapses quickly).

    We should anticipate plenty more fights over the scraps that fall off the elites table over the coming decade.

    Then we will have street theatre and jesters, if we are lucky. If we are less lucky we will be subjected to fully-fledged fascism, with incarceration or murder of those who object.

    ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

    A wise saying.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      Where are we headed? We are headed for 14th century social and economic arrangements…

      Although I’m sure that’s exactly what NAct want (no democracy) it’s not what’s going to happen. Unlike the collapse of the Roman Empire we’re not going to lose the knowledge that we’ve gained and so the social and economic arrangements will be somewhat different. It won’t be what it is now as Power Down will cause a major shift but I don’t think most people will stand for going back to a dictatorship or the hardship that was normal in those times when we don’t have to.

  11. Jum 12

    This is just a small taste of our future if Key gets in again.

    People are so divided now; they’re treating belonging to a union as some sort of infectious plague, but in a year or so, they will be sorry they turned their backs on group support.

    Independent thinking and acting is excellent, but always have the umbrella support of an organization that actually cares about you and your future children’s working welfare.

    If you like to arrange your own contracts, great. Just remember that the management know the employees they can manipulate, and they’re always the ones on their own. So be strong in your independence. If you think you need some support behind you, join a union.

    For example, this government hasn’t been railroading student unions to go voluntary because the students wanted to go voluntary. That didn’t happen. Students could always opt out of the student union.

    Act and National decided to solve a problem that didn’t exist because they want to control and dumb down the university’s academia and by association, turn universities into training sites for business rather than learning institutions. And they don’t want an organised student union to do battle with. There has already been a sit in on behalf of the staff – you uni students rock!

    The Auckland University is bemoaning the fact that a compulsory union uni has a full food cupboard for students in need; Akld Uni has lots of bare shelves because they elected to go voluntary themselves. Students never notice that until they need help. Incidentally, with this government’s legislation they are forcing the students out of the union – how democratic and use of free will is that? Students will still have to pay for the supports that the students unions give, but the Uni will levy them and there will be no representation by uni students for uni students on uni student issues.

    We need universities of higher learning; we need high level apprenticeships for our youth that want to follow other professions and we want schools with teachers having a union support base that ensures they cannot be railroaded into turning out cheap labour with no access to support systems. Without that union support a couple of decades ago, all our schools would have been privatised and the gap even wider than before between rich and poor. That is how John Key and Steven Joyce want to operate in this latest NAct government. Their plan of divide and destroy workers and their support systems has not changed since a group of rich white men created National to get rid of Labour in 1936.

    With teachers having no strong support systems in place, they would not have been able to protest the National standards idiocy; this government now wants revenge. It looks like Steven Joyce may get it if he can force their union to go voluntary.

    Remember that when you’re out of a job you thought you had for as long as you wanted and suddenly you’re one of those people that John Key calls lazy beneficiaries, because you can’t get a job that doesn’t exist.

  12. Colonial Viper 13

    And let’s all of us be clear that PETER JACKSON, trustworthy friend of workers and unions alike, likely helped write this legislation for the National Government.

  13. Further to that, Colonial Viper; from the link provided by Irishbill in his opening post;

    “Over the last 10 years our relationship with NZ Equity has been rocky — whenever we cast an “overseas actor”, we get a letter telling us why such and such Kiwi actor would be so much better in the role. In most cases we have already auditioned the actor in question, and formed our own opinions — but what strikes me as unfair, is how this “helpful” service of suggesting better choices only includes the “Equity 200″. If you happen to be a good actor who doesn’t belong to NZ Equity (and many don’t), you’re automatically not good enough to be put forward.”

    Now correct me if I’m wrong… but isn’t that what the AGENTS of actors do: promote their own clients to the exclusion of other, non-client actors?

    So why should Jackson look down on Actor’s Equity for promoting their own members?

    In fact, Greg Ellis, secretary of the breakaway “NZAG”, also provides inducements that are beneficial to NZAG members – but not to other actors. You have to join NZAG to obtain those benefits.

    So why does Jackson criticise Actor’s Equity “if you happen to be a good actor who doesn’t belong to NZ Equity (and many don’t), you’re automatically not good enough to be put forward”??

    I think that comment speaks volumes about Jackson’s views on unionism.

    • Colonial Viper 14.1

      Jackson is a member of three international unions himself as I understand. No, make that four: he’s also a member of the Union of Wealthy Two Faced Hypocrites.

      • And he evidently “doesn’t know the difference” between a Union and a Guild.

        I wonder if he knows the difference between day and night?

        Honestly, Viper, I read that comment from him and he sounded like a National politician: unconvincing and trying to explain why tax cuts for the rich is a Jolly Good Idea, and that Serfs like me should be thankful that I’m worthy of being ripped off by my reptilian Overlords…

  14. Jum 15

    Key belongs to an ultra-conservative club called the International Democratic Union where democracy is for some but not others.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Democrat_Union

    Also,

  15. Jum 16

    Also,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asia_Pacific_Democrat_Union

    and, Pacific Democrat Union (PDU). This is quoted in Wikipedia but doesn’t seem to exist.

  16. Afewknowthetruth 17

    DTB

    ‘I don’t think most people will stand for going back to a dictatorship or the hardship that was normal in those times when we don’t have to.’

    People usually have little say in what the arrangements are. A tiny group uses a gang of thugs to terrorise everyone, and those who object are incarcerated or murdered.

    USSR
    Japan
    Italy
    Germany
    Spain
    China
    Taiwan
    Hungary
    Romania
    Yugoslavia
    Indonesia
    Cambodia
    Chile
    Argentian
    Colombia
    Paraguay
    Nicaragua
    Panama
    North Korea
    Myanmar

    are just s few of the multitude of nations that have suffered (or are suffering) totalitarian rule.

    The US, UK, Canada, Australia etc.are marching very quickly towards fascism

    Anyone who thinks ‘it can’t happen here’ is deluded. (It usually takes about one month to impose an iron heel via ‘security forces’).

    As for the hardship aspect, that is an inevitable consequence of the rules of geology and chemistry etc. The most of the world is in massive overshoot as a direct consequence of cheap fossil fuel energy which simply will not be available a decade from now.

    Rather than prepare for the inevitable, the ‘master plan’ seems to be to ignore reality for as long as possible, then let the masses starve.

    .

  17. johnm 18

    As AFKTT says : “The US, UK, Canada, Australia etc.are marching very quickly towards fascism”
    Look at the fascist response to protesters in WALL STREET protesting the fascist screw the ordinary American system:

    “Occupy Wall Street Protesters Cuffed, Pepper-Sprayed”
    “Scores of protesters were arrested in Manhattan Saturday as a march against social inequality turned violent.”
    “Hundreds of people carrying banners and chanting “shame, shame” walked between Zuccotti Park, near Wall St., and Union Square calling for changes to a financial system they say unjustly benefits the rich and harms the poor.”
    “Witnesses said they saw three stunned women collapse on the ground screaming after they were sprayed in the face.”

    Refer link: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/09/25

  18. millsy 19

    Personally I wouldnt recommend a career in the creative industries for anyone.

    You want to be an actor (or make up person, or costume design, etc), hit up the local repertory society. They are always looking for people to help out and they wont chew you up and spit you out.

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  • Racing Industry Bill passes third reading
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  • Ground-breaking on NZ Post depot
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  • Fleeing drivers hit new record-high yet again
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  • Speech to Labour Party Congress 2020
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  • Statement on passage of national security law for Hong Kong
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