by Denise Roche
I’ve been a big fan of JRR Tolkien since I was a kid. I was so taken with Lord of the Rings that after I finished reading the books I became convinced that one of my older sisters was a hobbit and she started shaving her toes to shut me up. In my teens my boyfriend’s car was called Gandalf and my mother forbade me from calling our new puppy Pippin or Merry.
I loved Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. It was a blast seeing our gorgeous scenery and local actors on the screen. I swear half the population of Auckland was an extra in the movies. Half the fun of watching the movies was spotting familiar faces in the background.
And while it’s great that Jackson is getting to make another three fantastic movies on the Hobbit, it’s not so great that the National Government pandered to the union-busting wishes of the American film industry – Warner Brothers – and changed the laws around collective bargaining and contractors in exchange for a bunch of industry jobs in New Zealand that are cheaper than their international counterparts.
And frankly last night when the Prime Minister was on the red carpet at the premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected journey and thanked the people of New Zealand for ‘allowing’ his government to change the law it was a huge affront to Actors Equity and the workers who were told they could not bargain collectively for their wages and conditions and were deemed to be ‘contractors’ while working on the movie. It’s an affront to all workers actually, because the law weakens the rights for workers on other movies and in other industries.
The New Zealand public did not support or allow this law. It was passed under urgency – so the basics of democracy were suspended to get the legislation passed. The law was not needed. Official Information Act requests showed that the government was on track to change the law – at the request of Warners – despite the fact that the dispute around pay and conditions had been settled so the problem was over.
The Greens support a strong vibrant film industry for New Zealand. We support jobs in what is on the whole a ‘knowledge industry’ sector. We acknowledge the marketing benefits the Hobbit movies offer to our economy and we also acknowledge the fact that New Zealand taxpayers gave over $100 million in subsidies for the making of these movies.
Selling our laws to give fewer rights for workers on top of this is too is too high a price.