The Government will give the Hobbit producers an extra $33 million (USD$25 million) to stay in New Zealand (just above the prediction I made the other day) and it’s going to use this ‘crisis’ as an excuse to slam through more anti-worker laws. New Zealand has been played like naive hicks. We let Jackson and his Hollywood mates whip us into a frenzy of fear, and now we’re paying the cost.
The fact is that this whole ‘crisis’ was instigated by Peter Jackson and the Hollywood producers to squeeze more money out of us. Jackson has a long history of threatening capital flight to maximise his taxpayer subsidies, and this is just par for the course in Hollywood. The depreciating US dollar just gave them more reason to squeeze harder than usual.
It is right for the Government to invest to get big movies here when other countries are playing the same game because there is a net economic benefit to the country (and don’t you wish they apply the same logic to NZ industry like getting Kiwirail to build the new railcars?) but we’re only paying so much more because we let ourselves be conned by what was always a hollow threat. Jackson and Warners held the gun of capital flight to our heads but, with $100 million already invested here to make the Hobbit, the gun was never really loaded.
Basically, we’ve been played like rubes at the county fair. And we made such easy marks. The media lost its rag as soon as Jackson said ‘boo’ and failed to analyse the situation on anything other than a purely emotional level. This national hysteria enabled the con-job that was pulled on us.
To be fair to Key, while he did play his part in whipping up the ‘crisis’ for his own purposes (which I’ll get to shortly) he did do the negotiations right: he acted pretty indifferent to whether Warners stayed or left and said there wasn’t much money to be had. Basically, that called Warner’s bluff. As everyone with an ounce of sense has known all along, Warners was never leaving.
Key had to pay something though, because he couldn’t be 100% sure they wouldn’t leave and couldn’t face the political cost if they did. The films needed to stay here and paying up was the only way to insure they did. Jackson and the Hollywood execs won’t be disappointed to walk away with an extra $33 million for a week’s work scaring some colonial hicks.
Of course, Key has his own interests in this ‘crisis’ – the anti-union element.
The Nats were already putting Parliament into Urgency tomorrow to repeal a ‘tough on crime’ bill that they stuffed up last year (remind anyone of how they passed those first tax cuts under Urgency only to repeal them under Urgency five months later?). Now, they’ll use that Urgency to rush through a law (the Hobbit Enabling Act?) that says: ‘if you’re a film worker and your contract says you’re a contractor, you’re a contractor not an employee, no matter if your actual employment is in the nature of an employee’.
So what you might say? Well, in the law whether you are an employee or a contractor has always been a matter of fact, not merely what the contract says. The Employment Authority looks at the reality of your work relationship – whether you worked on a stable basis and had a reasonable expectation of ongoing work. It has to be so otherwise bosses would just employ you as a contractor and you would miss out on leave entitlements, natural justice rights, notice of termination, and redundancy, which employees have a right to and contractors generally do not.
As a result of this law, which will be rushed and shoddily drafted no doubt, every film worker in the country faces the prospect of being re-employed as an independent contractor to do the same work they’re already doing as employees, just with fewer rights.
All in all this is a bad result for New Zealand. The Hobbit was always going to be filmed in New Zealand. We (by which I mean, the msm and that portion of the public that still listens to it) allowed ourselves to get whipped into a hysteria that was completely at odds with reality. That hysteria was instrumental in seeing us pay over a further $33 million to Hollywood and Jackson, and it will be instrumental in seeing yet another group of workers lose key employment rights.