Fisking the CTU

The Herald has the statements from Peter Jackson and the here.

I was going to fisk the CTU statement, but Russell Brown has done it far better than I could. And yes, that is not a typo.

I do want to first touch on one aspect, quoting the CTU:

Facts on Hobbit

, CTU President, said today that it is important that some facts about the union stance on are placed before the public.

• The union is seeking basic terms and conditions such as hours, breaks, overtime payments etc.

• The union has always been prepared to agree those conditions as an industry standard rather than a collective agreement.

This is both false and misleading.

First of all the union is not just “seeking” basic terms and conditions. It arranged a global boycott of the film. This is the nuclear bomb when it comes to negotiations.

And like any nuclear bomb, you can’t lob one into battle, and then say afterwards “Oh we’ll try and pretend we never did that and promise not to do it again”. The damage is done the moment it has happened.

The studios want certainty even more than lower cost. It may actually end up in a country where most actors are covered by a union. That is preferable to NZ, because they actually have certainty.

But a union with only 86 or so members that arranges a global boycott of a film is the opposite of stability. It signals run, run away from these lunatics.

Secondly let me quote from the global boycott:

Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film The Hobbit until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions

Now re-read what the CTU says:

The union has always been prepared to agree those conditions as an industry standard rather than a collective agreement.

What bullshit. The global boycott was explicitly got a collective agreement. This is not just spin or distortion – it is a total lie.

Now let me quote Russell Brown:

Instead, since its takeover by the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Equity has been so feckless that it failed to file reports for three years, until it was struck off the register of incorporated societies. New Zealand actors have a decent case for greater power and security in their industry. Their union – and the Australian union that was supposed to bring in a new era of professionalism – has failed them.

Eighteen months ago, Equity refused an offer from the Screen Production and Development Association (Spada) to renegotiate the “Pink Book” code of conduct which covers actors’ pay and conditions and has been untouched since the moved in. Its precondition for any talks with Spada was that the existing system, which does generally work, be scrapped and replaced with collective agreements.

This shows the lies told by the CTU up even more. Not only did MEAA not seek an update to the industry standard, they flat out refused to negotiate such a thing.

There were other things wrong with the union’s strategy, if it can be called that. The way the first meeting in Wellington was run was a disgrace – while anyone who turned up and called themselves a performer was allowed to vote in Auckland, the rules were changed in Wellington after the vote had begun to exclude non-Equity members. One actor trying to read a statement from Jackson (who had been refused permission to address the meeting) was shouted down and couldn’t fnish.

Most notably, statements from organiser Frances Walsh clearly indicated it was seeking to negotiate a national agreement via The Hobbit (why else talk about wanting to negotiate rules on nudity in a film which features no nudity?) and Robyn Malcolm managed to say in successive sentences to John Campbell that they wanted “a fair deal for New Zealand actors working on the Hobbit”, but an agreement that was “not Hobbit-specific”. I’ve explained before why it would have been unethical for Jackson to put himself in that position.

And this is the real game – to try and force all NZ productions to pay the same as The Hobbit.

By the time they’d settled for far less – and finally agreed to talk to Spada without showstopping preconditions — the damage had largely been done. Yes, if Ireland gets the gig, it will be because of its more-generous-than-the-others tax breaks. But the film was going to be made in New Zealand. The door for other countries was opened when MEAA executive Simon Whipp authorised the SAG member alert that brought the production to a halt by banning actors from working on it.

If Warners thinks the industrial relations environment in New Zealand has become too risky and unpredictable, it has some cause for thinking so.

Again, it is not about the lowest cost – it really is about stability. Remember there are two films to be produced – they don’t want to finish one, and then have an unstable union call another boycott or strike to ratchet up demands on the second film.

Some people have a conspiracy theory that it is all about the tax credit, and that this issue is just an excuse. They should consider how much money has already been spent by Jackson and Weta preparing for filing it here – Hobbiton re-established etc.

But it was telling that the CTU’s Helen Kelly said on Nightline last night that the Equity meeting had been called for members to discuss “what they wanted in terms of terms and conditions”.

You’re saying that after all this — you still don’t know what you want?


It’s also generally not a good sign for a union leader, as Kelly did, to refer to the 1000-plus working people who met and marched in Wellington last night, most of them members of their own guilds and unions, as being in a “lynch mob” mood.

So Helen managed to insult hundreds of union members.

None of the other screen guilds have spoken in support of Equity, and they have privately assured both Spada and the government that they are on the side of the producers in this case.

They are the real victims. I’ll be minorly affected in that the NZ economy will take a dive, and that means more debt to be serviced by us as taxpayers. But the 1000s of people who will end up out of work are the ones I really feel for. It’s one thing to lose your job when it is semi-inevitable – in a fading industry etc. But to work in what was a growing healthy industry with a bright future, and to lose your job because of the actions of a few dozen individuals would really piss you off.

Even if the film can be hauled back here – and that’s the state of play – this will have badly damaged relations in the industry. And if the film really is lost, it will damage a lot more than that – the trade union movement included.

This is the part puzzling me. Putting aside ideological differences I have always regarded Helen Kelly as a pretty smart operator, and someone who does try to do the right thing.

But her involvement with this dispute has been disastrous.

Almost everyone involved with this fracas has said that MEAA’s Simon Whipp is the problem – the NZ Actors involved are lightweights. So Whipp is the Aussie bad boy that everyone was blaming (and fairly).

But what Helen has done is change the focus of anger from being the head of an aussie union, to the head of the CTU. She is associating all NZ unions with Simon Whipp’s campaign, and as loath as I am to give advice to the NZ union movement on how to protect their reputation, I have to say that this is a spectacularly bad thing.

The CTU has put out a press release which is factually incorrect and made themselves the target. Why on Earth did they not just assist behind the scenes (where they have done some good I hear), rather than become the de facto spokesperson for the MEAA?

How will the CTU have credibility about protecting Kiwi jobs, if the movies do go overseas?

Oh, and finally, on a related note – I’ve heard nothing on this matter from the temporary and future Labour Party Leaders – surely some journalist has asked Phil Goff and Andrew Little if they support the CTU’s defence of the global boycott against the Hobbit?

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