Thursday 4 November 2010

New Zealand passes historic Hobbit legislation

After a bitter and public industrial war between Australia, the US and New Zealand, the two Hobbit films, following from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, will be filmed in the land of the long short cloud - New Zealand.

New Zealand's parliament has passed special legislation to keep the massive production in Kiwiville, based in Wellington, affectionately known as Wellywood.

The film's backers, Warner Brothers have signed an agreement with the government to change labour laws that ensure the $500 million production stays in the country. Warner was threatening to base the films in Australia of even in Europe, that started from the acting unions in dispute.

A Labour MP says there is both opposition and criticism to the new legislation.

Opposition and Labour MP Charles Chauvel, said the government gave in to the multi-national organisation who asked for the dilution of a labour standard in return for an investment.

"Even with a last-minute amendment, National has made employment law less, not more, certain, as a result of the Hobbit bill," Charles Chauvel said. "The law governing the status of workers in New Zealand has been well-settled for the past five and a half years, since the Supreme Court decision in Bryson v Three Foot Six Ltd [director Peter Jackson's company]. There have been no significant cases since then on whether workers are employees or contractors, so there was no need to change the law under urgency in the way National has done."

Chauvel says changing the law in the way the Government has done, creates more, not less, uncertainty:

- The law makes all film workers contractors, not employees;
- But if they are party to a written employment agreement, they will be employees;
- No clarity is provided about what amounts to a written employment agreement;
- Big incentives exist, especially in the event of a dispute arising, for film workers to claim employment rather than contractor status;
- There is likely to be more, not less, litigation, as a result of this law change.

"The debate on the Hobbit bill has been characterised by misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the law," Charles Chauvel says. "It has been a rushed process and has resulted in a law that will have the opposite effect of what the Government wanted."

The unions who commenced the action, threatened to abandon the films.

Warner will get extra tax breaks, a change in the labour law, and assistance in marketing costs - costing millions of dollars.

The legislation says film industry workers are not "employees" but "independent contractors", in agreement with union demands.

The new law was passed 66 to 50, and not a Hobbit in sight.

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