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NZ screen sector needs special employment carve-outs to stay competitive

New Zealand’s screen sector needs its own employment framework to remain globally competitive, a working group says.

By Paul McBeth

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The Film Working Group was set up by the government in January to deal with concerns of a power imbalance in a sector dominated by contractors who are blocked from collective bargaining.

The 13 members of the group agreed on a series of recommendations, based on the view that the screen sector is unique and needed its own set of labour laws, and that workers can agree to either be employees or contractors. They also recommend extending the special status beyond a narrow definition of film production to cover TV, film, web, gaming, and emerging technologies in virtual and augmented reality.

Group facilitator Linda Clark, a lawyer at Kensington Swan and former broadcaster and journalist, said the nature of filming meant producers need certainty on costs and flexible conditions to meet deadlines and budgets.

“Project durations are often fixed, and one worker can be involved in multiple productions during a year,” she said.

The group recommended baby-steps for enabling collective bargaining to ensure a new framework is durable, Clark said. This would require resourcing to build up the industry’s capacity and educate a workforce largely made up of contractors with no knowledge of that style of negotiation.

Collective deals would be allowed at a sub-industry level covering pay and terms and conditions, and would need legislative change blocking contractors from collective bargaining.

The group expects that bargaining will lead to different collective contracts for each major occupational group – such as technicians, writers, directors, actors and stunt people – and would set the minimum terms and conditions for contractors.

The report urges the government to signal any regulatory changes early to provide the certainty needed to maintain continuity of production and attract overseas productions. It also encouraged policymakers to communicate with the industry, because it believes media reporting of labour laws creates uncertainty and international concern.

“The regime we commend is a big change for some in the industry and it imposes a burden on some groups in particular to manage the bargaining process,” the report said.

Any changes should be reviewed after 18 months to allow for fine-tuning, it said.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the government supports the industry’s desire to remain attractive to international producers and will consider its response to the recommendations. Any legislative changes needed will be introduced next year, he said.

Earlier this month, Lees-Galloway said the group’s work on collective bargaining was informing him more broadly on how to extend rights for contractors to bargain collectively, something he says puts workers in a stronger position to seek pay and conditions appropriate for their industry.

The working group members included producer Barrie Osborne, BusinessNZ’s Paul Mackay, Directors and Editors Guild head Tui Ruwhiu, Equity New Zealand’s Melissa Ansell-Bridges, Film Auckland’s Alex Lee, Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff, NZ Writers Guild head Alice Shearman, Nga Aho Wahaari executive director Erina Tamepo, Regional Film Office NZ chair Michael Brook, Sioux Macdonald of the Screen Industry Guild, Screen Production and Development Association co-president Richard Fletcher, Stunt Guild of NZ’s Augie Davis and Weta Digital’s HR manager Brendan Keys.