28 October 2010

The price of being a Hobbit

Well, my prediction came true. The deal was done, and, as I write, Parliament is obligingly rushing through, with unseemly haste, a law to ensure that film industry workers with contracts that say that they are independent contractors will remain as contractors in law, even if the companies treat them as if they were employees! Nice deal!

A foreign company whispers 'jump' and John Key shouts 'how high!?'

Gerry Brownlee told the House that Warner Bros never told the government to change the employment law. They didn't have to. The National-led government will use any excuse to whittle down employment rights anyway. They love doing that. And this time they have the excuse of 'saving the Hobbit'.

Presumably, Warner Bros' concern was that independent contractors may (under certain limited circumstances) be able to go to court to argue that they were in fact in an employment relationship. If successful in that case, those employees could then claim holiday pay, organise and bargain collectively, and, if a collective agreement proved hard to agree on, they could even go on strike. It's a long bow, since, by that time, the filming would probably be over; so I guess that might have happened - but we'll never know.

Scaremongering about Australian unions calling strikes in NZ were nothing more than that: scaremongering.

The sad thing we learn from this is that, however glamorous an acting career may appear to be, if an actor dares to ask for the kinds of rights at work that people like me take for granted, they risk being mercilessly vilified in the media. And then summarily denied their rights by Parliament.

It also shows us that - depending on how you look at the case in hand - our legislature is either admirably flexible and pragmatic, or frighteningly ready to strip our own people of their rights... 'to ride rough-shod over people', as the PM put it once. It shows up the weakness of our constitution.

26 October 2010

The Great Hobbit Charade

I know it's not a good idea to make predictions - and I may have to eat my words in a later posting - but I predict that the Hobbit movies will be produced in NZ.

Why? Simply because that's what everyone wants. Just about every hobbit-footed NZer wants it, including John Key ... and even Helen Kelly (the unions having completely renounced threats of a labour boycott since last week). But, above all, I am sure that Warner Bros want that too. After all, the LOTR and Hobbit series are now branded along with NZ as Middle Earth, so there'd be a huge movie-audience backlash if the Hobbit is set somewhere else.

(Alternatively, Warner Bros could look for a cheap location in Eastern Europe, say Romania, i.e. Transylvania, and make a vampire-meets-hobbit cross-over movie. That could work!)

So, why the big charade with 'crisis talks' between Warner Bros and John Key today? Obviously it suits both parties to drag this drama out for all it's worth. Warner Bros get to screw some taxation and employment-law concessions out of the NZ Government, while Johnny-Boy gets to look like a white knight, saving our economy and our international brand - and, above all, making the unions look bad.

What worries me is that this situation will become another excuse to use a nationally significant Event to pass a law that'll allow the government to suspend the law (probably, in this case, the personal grievance provisions of the Employment Relations Act). See my previous posts on the legislation passed to 'empower' the Rugby World Cup and the reconstruction of Canterbury.

The weird thing is that, while we are all presently so precious about protecting 'sensitive' lands from foreign ownership, it looks like the present government (no doubt with jingoistic popular support) could be ready to sell one of our best workforces to the lowest foreign bidder. Scoundrels! If the Labour Party support them this time, I'll be voting for the Greens at the next Election!

09 October 2010

John Key should be very worried

Going by the valid votes cast and counted by today (Saturday 9th), Len Brown won just short of 49% of votes for Auckland mayor, and John Banks 35.7%. That's a margin much larger than opinion polls had indicated prior to the Election. Let's be honest, the mayoral race was a proxy Labour-vs-National contest in (rather thin) disguise. And let's not forget that political parties can win or lose power depending on how Auckland - especially South Auckland - turns out to vote.
To make matters worse for Mr Key, his accustomed "I'm relaxed about that" attitude (which serves the needs of his conservative voters not to get too wound up about such matters) has worn rather thin this week as public opinion has turned against Henry Paul's inappropriate comments on TV. That is, public opinion has also run against the PM's apparent "relaxedness" about it all. Let's recall, the PM himself was actually there, and was complicit in, the comments Henry Paul made about the Governor-General, and he failed to challenge those comments at the time. Since then, he has avoided any outright condemnation of the discriminatory implications of the conversation that he was a party to, even as it began to turn into a diplomatic row with the Indian Government.
In a year's time there'll be a General Election. If ACT fails to get a seat in the House, and if South Auckland voters get mad and get active again, then we could very well see a situation where the National Party, even if its traditional support stays solid, is unable to form another government. (Mind you, I've never been good at predicting the future!)