Thursday, October 28, 2010

Exeunt. Seriously.

Big news in Kiwiland this morning: The Hobbit will be filmed here, but (says the government) Warner is insisting on a change in labour law. No longer will film industry contractors be able to claim that they are, in effect, employees, and entitled to employee protections.

"A likely tale", cry the unions. "This is just another step in the government's agenda to strip away all workers' rights and reduce us to the status of some third-world hellhole like Mississippi. What are we doing, letting these American thugs dictate our domestic employment law?"

For once, I think the unions have a good point. No matter what's at stake, when a foreign company tells you to change your employment law, the only decent answer should be to refer them to the reply in the case of Arkell v Pressdram. Moreover, treatment of contractors is one of those areas where NZ employment law really doesn't need rebalancing in favour of employers. The fact that this change is, apparently, to be specific to the film industry is probably supposed to reassure me, but I've always been against making "exclusive" laws.

But if the unions are right about this, then their leaders really need to resign. Today. Because they have royally screwed up this dispute. They literally couldn't have handled it worse if they'd been in cahoots with the government all along.

They picked a stupid fight over a high-profile issue - associated with the country's biggest international success in living memory - pitting themselves directly against the most popular person in the country. They allowed themselves to be cast as pawns of foreign interests who wanted the movies made elsewhere. They made themselves look both callous and cowardly. They say that they only "requested talks", but at this point that looks like sheer revisionism: they threatened the production, and they did it in a very high-profile way. It's been national news for a month.

In all seriousness: if you were trying to give the government an opening, what would you have done differently?

The only explanation that would make any sense at all is that they were trying to make the National government overreach itself and hand a much-needed PR boost to Labour, which has wisely remained aloof from the whole fiasco. In which case, Key's limited retaliation makes sense - it's a giant middle digit extended to the unions, at a time when almost no-one in the country, least of all their own members, is going to sympathise.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand, head of NZ Equity, and Helen Kelly, president of the Council of Trade Unions, need to go. They have let down the whole country, by putting the government in a position where it could sell out our laws to a foreign corporation. Worse, they've let down their own members - jeopardising the very livelihoods they're paid to protect. It's time for some union leaders in this country who understand something about politics.


Steven Marty Grant said...

Makes you wonder who got paid what. Living in New York I am no fan of unions but the film industry is making enough money.

vet said...

SMG, I don't for a moment think anyone was paid off (except Warners). That's the thing about this country: there's no need for corruption, when you can get the same result much cheaper by relying on sheer incompetence.

Which is nice, because it means I can write this kind of column without committing libel...