Screen workers bargaining hamstrung by law loophole

by Newsroom — 20 December 2023

Only four entities, all of which are employee groups, have registered to undertake bargaining under the Screen Industry Workers Act. Notably, there are no registered employers or employer groups, leaving employees without an official counterpart for negotiations. Sherridan Cook, a lawyer at Buddle Findlay, pointed out a loophole in the law, emphasising that the absence of employer organisations creates a gap. Cook drew parallels with the Fair Pay Agreements Act, where a last-minute amendment allows employees to approach the Employment Relations Authority if no employer organisation participates in bargaining, enabling them to have their employment terms determined.

Enacted in 2022, the Screen Industry Workers Act followed recommendations from a 2018 working group established in the aftermath of the 2010 “Hobbit law,” officially known as the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill. This law emerged in response to the advocacy of NZ Equity, the New Zealand Actors’ Union, seeking improved conditions for individuals on individual contracts during the production of The Hobbit.

The “Hobbit law” faced strong opposition from Warner Bros and filmmaker Peter Jackson, who argued that the unrest might lead to relocating the film production overseas. Ultimately, the outcome included an enhanced tax write-off for the studio and the hasty passage of a law preventing film workers from engaging in collective bargaining.