Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Banana republic

On the same day we're recognised as the least corrupt country in the world, the Prime Minister is offering to change our labour laws to benefit an international investor:

Speaking yesterday after meeting with the executives, Mr Key said the "paramount" problem was that film workers on independent contracts could be legally seen as employees, even if their contracts specifically called them contractors.

That followed a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 on James Bryson, a model maker on the Lord of the Rings movies, who was deemed an employee, even though he was hired as a contractor.

"They're not arguing people can't be employees," Mr Key said.

"They're just saying that if someone is engaged by their production company as a contractor, they want to know if that's how it's going to end up, and if it doesn't, that has other economic consequences for them.

"They're out of here, if we can't give them the clarity. There's no question about that."

Other reports suggest that this change could be specific to the film industry, or even "unique to The Hobbit". So, in addition to the Canterbury Enabling Act and the Rugby World Cup Enabling Act, we may see a Hobbit Enabling Act (no doubt rammed through under all-stages urgency) as well.

If OTOH its a broader change, then what Key is actually suggesting is giving employers the power to opt out of the protections of employment law (including the minimum wage, holidays and sick leave, union rights and grievance provisions) entirely, simply by arbitrarily designating workers as "independent contractors". Some bad employers (including Peter Jackson) already try and do this, but the law currently subjects such contracts to a factual test. If that test is removed, then its open season. And the primary victims won't be film technicians or actors, but retail workers and cleaners. Supporters of The Hobbit may wish to ask themselves whether seeing the movie filmed in New Zealand is worth their pay, their holidays, their sick leave, and their right to be treated fairly by an employer - because that is what Key is putting on the table.