AUG 12 2019
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Changes to the Hobbit Law

Changes to the Hobbit Law – what to expect

A law change is on the way for contractors working in New Zealand’s screen sector following the recommendations of the Film Industry Working Group. The proposed legislation will involve a model where screen sector workers can continue as contractors, but they will gain rights to negotiate collectively using good faith bargaining and a dispute resolution scheme. However, such contractors will not have the right to strike.

The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act (more commonly known as, the “Hobbit law”) was introduced in 2010, effectively making all workers in the New Zealand film industry contractors. It was introduced to provide certainty to overseas film companies who were concerned about the potential for contractors to claim that they were actually employees following the success of one such contractor in the 2005 Supreme Court case of Bryson v Three Foot Six. Such law also effectively removed the risk of industrial action.

The key aspects of the Government’s proposed model are:

·         New universal terms will apply to all contract relationships in the screen industry. These relate to good faith between parties; protection from bullying, discrimination and harassment; fair and reasonable contract termination; and fair rates of pay.

·         Contractors will be able to bargain collectively at occupational and enterprise levels, with clear processes covering how bargaining is initiated, carried out and concluded.

·         Occupational groups may include performers, technicians, writers, visual effect artists and game developers, with exemptions possible.

·         A tiered dispute resolution system will support parties to resolve issues. However, industrial action will be prohibited.

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Iain Lees-Galloway, has said that the new model will apply to screen production work such as films, drama serials, commercials and video games. However, its exact coverage will be determined during drafting, in consultation with the industry.

The Minister noted that the Government has not accepted the Working Group’s recommendation that the “Hobbit law” be expanded from film and video games to all screen productions, as the expansion would be too wide.

Any collective negations would set minimum standards, but individual contractors could still negotiate superior terms to those. The Minister anticipates the legislation will be introduced by the end of 2019 and be in law by mid-2020.

The proposed changes attempt to strike a balance between giving screen workers more collective employee-based rights, while not diminishing New Zealand’s attractiveness as a film production location on the world market. The prohibition on taking industrial action is perhaps a nod to the latter. Time will tell as to whether such a law change will be a negative factor when international film productions consider investing in New Zealand. At this stage the outcome is uncertain and as such anyone involved in the industry, and/or considering investing in the industry or any industry participant, will need to carefully monitor the impact of this new law once in force.

Article written by Arthur Crawford
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