Party Like It’s 1894: Reforming the Hobbit Law [New Zealand Politics]

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So our Labour Government has backtracked on its promise to repeal the vile Hobbit Law (which, you may remember, was Peter Jackson and John Key ending the rights of film-workers to collectively bargain). Instead, it’s given us something else… something that may be very good, or very horrid, depending on the details.

Film-workers will now be contractors with the right to collectively bargain.

On the surface, this is confusing as hell. How can independent contractors – by definition, not employees – negotiate a collective contract? There are two possible answers:

(1) That collective contract here really means “standard contract” – that is, these film-workers will all be subject to the same conditions, on a take it or leave it basis. This is the interpretation being put forward by the Penguin, who is positively squawking with delight at the defeat of those evil, evil unions. Because let’s face it, David Farrar and the National Party have never met an employer whose abuses they didn’t want to defend (the New Zealand National Party – the country’s most determined and sincere class warriors. If only one could say the same about Labour).

(2) That this is a strange, modern, revival of New Zealand’s grand old Industrial Arbitration system from 1894. The one that outlawed union strikes, and replaced it with a system whereby the unions and employers both put their cases before an Arbitrator, and were then bound by the decision. This new system for film-workers (which explicitly prohibits strikes) may be something similar, given that there is this little paragraph from the Stuff article:

The policy will also prohibit industrial action, removing strikes from the collective bargaining toolbox. An arbitration system and a requirement that parties act in “good faith” appears to be the replacement.

So these “contractors” – who certainly, certainly, aren’t employees – may be subject to what amounts to a de facto return to the old National Awards system. Sure, they don’t have the right to strike, but then neither did the unions under the 1894 system, and that was (correctly) considered a gigantic step forward for worker rights. Other employee-level protections (which are statutory in employee cases) can be negotiated and expanded upon through the process. Yes, David Farrar is celebrating… but if you read the article, so are the unions.

It’s an odd question: “independent contractors” negotiating “collective contracts” requires one of two things. Either these are contractors in name only (i.e. this is a film industry version of 1894, and the unions have achieved something they probably could not have managed even with the right to strike), or these are collective contracts in name only (i.e. Farrar is right, and these are just standard contracts by another name). It’s one or the other.

We will see when the legislation is introduced.

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