Screen Industry Workers Bill – Hobbiton Horror

August 7th, 2020 - Barbara Buckett

The Screen Industry Workers Bill fails abysmally to address the issues of discrimination and damage caused by the Hobbit law.

The 2010 amendment to the Employment Relations Act allowed participants in the film industry to extract employee-level control over workers without affording those workers employee rights such as holiday pay and the duty to act reasonably.  The bill reinforces this. The bill perpetuates a class system whereby those that work for Weta are second class.

The Bill offers token solutions in response to industry issues around worker exploitation, sexual harassment, and toxic workplaces. It is a passive response particularly in light of the global #metoo movement which arose from similar issues in the American film industry. Two examples of this are:

  • The Bill requires parties to workplace relationships to act in “good faith,” a passive duty satisfied merely by “not misleading or deceiving each other.”

  • Under the Act, ‘engagers’ may not terminate a worker’s contract if the decision in retaliation to a worker’s exercise of his/her rights.

Film workers’ rights will not be protected or have equal employment rights until the Hobbit Law is repealed.  That is the elephant in the room that the bill and the government is avoiding.

 Although the bill proponents say that persons bringing a complaint within the industry are protected it would be very difficult in most cases to determine that termination of a contract is not retaliatory. As long as workers are not considered employees, businesses are not required to follow an examinable or justifiable process to terminate employees.

The structure of the industry means that collective bargaining is unlikely to provide benefit to workers. The saturation of the ­­­industry means that there is little incentive for operators to take notice of worker needs.

Further, giving workers an avenue to raise issues does not address the issue that workers’ vulnerable position systematically disincentivises them to raise concerns. The issue most often encountered by Buckettlaw is that workers are afraid of being placed onto an industry ‘blacklist’ making it difficult if not impossible for them to be offered a new contract in the future should they step out of line. As long as workers cannot challenge their employment status, this will not be resolved.

It is troubling that Workplace Relations Minister Andrew Little appears satisfied to compromise with a bill introducing a “basic level of rights for workers in that industry.”  Bit like a bargain basement response. When in New Zealand did, we accept basic level of rights as  a sacrifice to  decency and fundamental basic human and employment rights.  

Short of an international treaty, Buckettlaw sees the only meaningful path to protect screen workers to be the immediate repeal of the Hobbit Law. The Government must decide whether it is willing to sell out the rights of screen workers to appease the multi-billion global film corporations.

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Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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