In a cynical attempt to draw blame away from MEAA, Actor’s Equity and CTU, Helen Kelly is now accusing the government of using the Hobbit dispute as an excuse to change labour laws that will directly impact contractors across the country. Which is true, to a degree. They are definitely using the row as a reason to clear up a loophole in law that will disadvantage contractors looking to be seen as employees.

But the blunt reality is that Actor’s Equity and CTU are the ones to blame for this. Much like the classic legend, Actor’s Equity as Pandora has naively opened a box full of trouble, and it just keeps spewing out problems for them.

The blunt reality is that if they had not gone ahead with the boycott, if they had told Simon Whipp to rack off, if they had not decided to clumsily use The Hobbit as a bargaining chip – none of this would have happened.

As Gerry Brownlee and Peter Jackson have pointed out, until the boycott there was absolutely no doubt that The Hobbit was going to be made in NZ. There were no plans to change the labour law. People were happy to go ahead with business as usual.

But they did choose to push the matter, and naively seemed to think everyone would go “oh, union action. We better give them what they want.”

This isn’t how union disputes work, and Helen Kelly should know this. What happens is that everyone involved starts asking questions about the way things have been done, and there is a very good chance that the reality will swing against the unions as much as it will favour them.

As the old saying goes “pick your battles carefully.”

When action is taken, you are always taking a gamble and you need to be ready for things to go bad. What is astounding in this dispute is that all the warning signs were there that this was not going to go the Actors’ way.

The problem is that their problems are based on factual issues but on theoretical ones. Actors in NZ have not been overly abused, they have been working as contractors and the demand to change had no solid impetus for doing it now rather than any time previously.

Actors are freelancers, and as such they have to be contractually managed as individuals. If Actor’s Equity wants collective contracts, they need to be auditioning their actors as a single “troupe” for hire and be competing with non-equity actors. They would need to negotiate an individual contract covering their “troupe.”

Naturally, this approach would be somewhat unlikely to succeed.

Now the box is open, there is no closing it. CTU and Actor’s Equity have let this out and it’s a bit late to be complaining that it isn’t going the way they wanted.

To be frank, if they want any sympathy from the public and film crews who are baying for their blood – the first thing they need to do is unconditionally acknowledge that they made a mistake, are responsible for starting this sorry mess and that it was handled poorly by them.

It’s their backhanded whining and constant finger pointing elsewhere that is pissing people off most. Everyone knows that they started this, so saying it was all a trick by Warners to get concessions just rings hollow. Warners are taking advantage of the dispute, yes. National is taking advantage of the dispute, yes. But the only reason there is a dispute at all is because MEAA and Actor’s Equity started it with declaring a boycott.

And the only people who really are being fooled by Actor’s Equity are themselves.

Of course, Pandora’s box also contained hope – and we can only hope that this mess is resolved without taking the NZ Film Industry back 20 years. I also hope that it will lead to a more contrite Actor’s Equity as well.

Conan

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