CTU president Helen Kelly has managed to negotiate for a meeting between Peter Jackson and Actors Equity.
This is great news and hopefully Kelly will help facilitate the meeting – she’s got a solid record of being able to steer a sensible course through fraught negotiations and with a bit of luck she’ll help get this one sorted too.
A happy ending for this dispute does not however, fix the broader problem of independent contracting being used to circumvent employment law. And finding a legislative fix to that may not be an easy task.
Two potential answers I can think of would be:
Change the legal onus of proof of employment to make it the employer’s responsibility to prove the relationship is contractual rather than an employment relationship. Currently the onus is on the contractor/employee to prove that they are an employee and this is generally an expensive legal exercise.
Such legislation would make film workers fixed-term employees by default but also allow them to be contractors if they wished. If producers thought they could make a case for them being independent contractors they could take it to the ERA.
Of course such a law would still allow producers to pressure individual workers to opt-out but it would also allow them to organise collectively to push back rather than the current situation in which they start from a position of significant weakness.
Or alternatively the commerce act could be changed to allow single-employee contractors the same rights to negotiate collectively that employees’ enjoy with access to the dispute resolution processes provided for by the ERA.
I think that altering the employment relations act would be the better answer as it would fit better with the intent and the current provisions of that legislation but I’m no big city lawyer and I’m well aware that every legal change creates it’s own loophole and the law of unintended consequence never sleeps.
So as a non-lawyer I’d be very keen to hear from our legally trained commenters what the pros and cons of each change would be and whether or not there’s a better way to protect workers from independent contracting without making legitimate contracting more difficult.