Helen Kelly’s Column

The Hobbit – tainted love

By Helen Kelly
Trades Union Council President

The premiere of The Hobbit last week brought back the debate about whether the actor’s seeking to bargain collectively ever posed a real risk of the film being moved and filmed elsewhere, and it raises the question – will the dispute change the way people think about the film?

There is a lot of detail to the timeline and facts of this dispute:

‘Narrative’ created by Hollywood and Key

Essentially, the Government and Warners created and maintained the narrative that by seeking to bargain collectively, the actors would cause the movie to be made overseas — meaning job losses, destruction of the NZ film industry and a dent to national pride.

Despite the dispute being settled, ultimately there was a change to the law removing film industry workers’ rights implemented under urgency (at the bequest of a multinational company) and $30 million was given in extra subsidies to the film as part of the deal to have the films filmed here.

While there is little doubt that these films will be popular, it seems that the dispute and subsequent deal has left a bitter taste with some people.

Dr Carolyn Michelle of Waikato University is studying how pre-release discussion, debate, marketing and promotion of a film shape subsequent responses to it.

While there is further surveying to be done after the Hobbit release date, early findings show the film has its detractors, with some local fans saying they were ‘disillusioned’ by its production issues.

For some or many people of course, the pre-production issues made no difference whatsoever and they have been eagerly awaiting the release of the film, but others were very critical of the Government and Warners.

Some have responded about being torn on the issue – excited that the film was made here – but concerned about the labour relations issues.

Some concern overseas

Internationally, some fans showed concern about New Zealand “giving up its national sovereignty” to a multinational film company.

A Swiss paper (Neue Zuercher Zeitung – NZZ, Switzerland) has reported that some Hobbit fans booed John Key’s speech prior to the premiere, which in parts praised Warners.

This may be indicative of an impatient crowd, a poor speech, or a sign that people have their reservations about the final product of the film being used to justify the means of kiwi’s work rights being sold up the river.

The Hobbit dispute has taken us on an unexpected journey leading to workers’ rights being cut as part of a deal.

NZ workers lack rights

Many workers in New Zealand now do not enjoy the internationally recognised rights to collectively bargain simply because they work in the film industry.

They no longer have the rights that the rest of us do in terms of the minimum wage, the Holidays Act, the employer levies to ACC, or the right to security against unfair dismissal. These were completely stripped away.

We were as keen as anyone to see The Hobbit filmed here, but it did not need to be at the expense of film industry workers rights.

I’m sure that many kiwi’s and fantasy fans around the world will love the film, but for me, many in the trade union movement and people with a sense of fairness and rights for workers, The Hobbit will always be tainted.

For further information, and detail about the dispute, readers can see – http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1104/S00081/helen-kelly-the-hobbit-dispute.htm




Giving way to Warners and swanning around in Hollywood shows that our Prime minister is a very shallow person, one who lacks any sense justice and is incapable of viewing a situation from an ethical angle. unfortunately for now we are stuck with him.