The Media Fails Media 101

Peter Jackson, Warner Brothers, Employees And Contractors

- John Minto

Just as the embarrassing grovelling of the Key government to Warner Brothers and the emotionally-challenged Peter Jackson was slipping from sight we were reminded again in February 2013 of this debacle and the appalling media reporting that went with it. The Government released, under protest, some of the correspondence it had with Warner Brothers at the time of “The Hobbit’s” blacklisting in 2010 by unions trying to get a collective agreement for film workers rather than the “contracting” so preferred by film studios.

The documents the Government released showed, among other things, that the blacklisting of “The Hobbit” by unions had been called off two days before the orchestrated and much publicised angry, anti-union march, supported by Jackson and Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor, demanding the blacklisting be lifted. What is also clear is that the Government knew the boycott had been lifted before the march but Minister Gerry Brownlee publicly denied this and relished the media whipping up public hostility against the entertainment unions.

But instead of setting the record straight and reporting the truth the media once more focused on telling us just how upset Peter Jackson was by the union action and how he didn’t get any sleep for two weeks worrying that he might have to negotiate a collective agreement for the workers employed on “The Hobbit”. The little man was apoplectic – how could God’s gift to New Zealand be treated so harshly by those horrible unions? It was a sad case of emotional immaturity. We now know Brownlee lied and if the media had done its job he would by now have been forced to resign and New Zealanders would understand just what was at stake for Jackson, Taylor and Warner Brothers over the contractor issue. It boils down to profit, more profit and even more profit while the workers get screwed.

The Truth About Contracting

For those not aware of the world of contractors here’s an example from earlier in 2013 when a friend of mine applied for a job as a full-time courier driver in South Auckland. At the end of the first week the boss handed him a contract to sign and because it said the role was “independent contractor” he rang me for advice given I’ve previously worked for several years as a union organiser. So what did the contract say? The pay was $625 per week which would be $15.63 per hour before tax based on a 40 hour week. Miserly pay but at least above the minimum wage ($13.75 from 1 April)

But…The company also deducts a $30 per week “servicing fee” for use of a company vehicle which is provided for its “contractors”. This takes the pay rate down to $14.88 per hour. And worse…The hours of work are from Monday to Friday from 6.30am to 5pm each day without rest breaks or meal breaks – the “contractor” is expected to take them on the run. This is 52.5 hours work per week, rather than 40, which takes the hourly rate down to $11.33 per hour before tax - below the minimum wage and with no paid breaks.

And worse still…As a “contractor” there are no four weeks paid holidays or five days paid sick leave (or overtime pay for statutory holidays for that matter)  which is worth approximately 10% of the total gross pay. This brings the hourly rate down to about $10.14 before tax. It couldn’t possibly get worse could it? Yes. The contract says any delivery mistakes or parcel breakages etc will be paid by the “contractor.” And accidents too. If the “contractor” has an accident in the company vehicle then he or she is “…responsible for all costs incurred in such an accident or incident”.

The contract lists a host of other responsibilities which shift all risk and liability to the “contractor” which should be the responsibility of the employer. In short, contracting allows this employer to pay far less than the minimum wage while piling all risks and liabilities onto the workers themselves. It is abusive and oppressive and describes the kind of slave-like conditions to which this kind of contracting inevitably leads. It’s easy to see why Jackson, Taylor and Warner Brothers love “contracting” and hate unions. It is a licence to screw workers even harder than usual. So instead of once again fawning over a sad, fragile, union-hating Jackson the media should have put the Government on the mat and told the public the truth about contracting. Why was that too much to ask?

“The Hobbit” documents that the Ombudsman ordered the Government to release in February 2013 can be read online at Warner Brothers won the 2010 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand; John Key and his Government won the Accomplice Award; and Peter Jackson won the special Quisling Award. The Judges’ Report can be read online at Ed.


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