By Tom Peters:
New Zealand government attacks film workers, gives millions to Hobbit producers
11 November 2010
On October 27, following discussions with Warner Brothers executives, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced that tax rebates and marketing subsidies for the two-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit would be increased by $US25 million—bringing the total subsidy to around $US75 million out of the project’s $500 million budget.
The next day, Key’s conservative National Party government passed a law making every worker in the film industry an “independent contractor” by default. While most actors are hired as independent contractors already, the law removes their right to challenge the designation. It strips actors, technicians, make-up artists and anyone else “engaged in film production work” of the limited legal protections available to employees, including sick leave, holiday pay, workplace accident insurance and protection against unjustified dismissal.
As independent contractors, film workers have no legal right to enter into collective contract negotiations or take industrial action over wages and conditions.
Warner Bros and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the owners of The Hobbit, had threatened to move production to another location, such as Britain or Eastern Europe. Key told a press conference that the increased subsidies were needed “to improve New Zealand’s competitiveness as a film destination for large budget films”. The increased value of the New Zealand dollar over the past two years—from 55 to 75 US cents—has pushed up costs for the Hollywood studios. Key told the New Zealand Herald that “these movies would not be made in New Zealand” without the employment law change to prevent industrial action.
These moves by the government demonstrate its abject subservience to the interests of big business. It has already been involved in carrying out austerity measures designed to make the working class pay for the economic crisis—including cuts to health and education spending, an increase in the consumption tax, and legislation to make it easier for workers to be laid off. While it recently justified an effective wage freeze for teachers and other state employees by claiming that “there aren’t bucket loads of new money,” at the same time it slashed corporate tax rates and in September bailed out the failed company South Canterbury Finance with $NZ1.7 billion ($US1.35 billion) in public funds.
The attack on film workers was prepared by a reactionary and nationalist campaign, spearheaded by Hobbit director and producer Sir Peter Jackson. The director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy demanded that the government do everything in its power to appease Warner Bros, while demonising actors who were seeking to improve their working conditions. Actors are among New Zealand’s lowest paid workers, receiving an average wage of just $NZ28,500 ($US22,670) per year, according to New Zealand Actors Equity.
The studios’ threats were issued after a breakdown in their relations with the unions representing film actors.
Racism in hiring Hobbit actors: here.
The London Socialist Film Co-op’s mission couldn’t be further removed from the big-money swagger of the Hollywood blockbusters premiered in Leicester Square a stone’s throw away from its Brunswick Square base: here.