The Screen Industry Workers Bill is back on the menu with the Government now wanting to to move it along. And that’s a good thing.
If there’s one issue that crops up more than any other at DEGNZ it’s individual contracts.
New Zealand moved away from collective bargaining with the changes to employment legislation that eroded a worker’s right to pre-agreed terms and conditions from the 70’s through to the 2000’s. Individual workers are left to negotiate their own remuneration and terms and conditions with the engagers (companies) if they become classed as contractors, which applies to a very high percentage of screen industry workers. This has been particularly bad for directors and editors, unless you are an in-demand person.
There are now generations of workers who have never had union representation, or benefitted from collectively negotiated agreements.
You, the individual director or editor, are required to negotiate your remuneration and the terms and conditions under which you work with the production company or broadcaster that has the resources in most cases to either engage a lawyer or have their own in-house legal counsel. This creates a playing field that’s ripe for exploitation by the unscrupulous. Many of you sign the contracts you are given with little or no negotiating power, and it’s these contracts we often see when people become unhappy with how they are treated.
The Screen Industry Worker Bill is one approach, agreed to by all unions and associations in the screen industry, to provide minimum protection to screen workers. It should prevent outright exploitation and offer the opportunity to get fair terms and conditions in a collective manner. There will still be the opportunity to negotiate individually as there is now. There will be a floor below which no engager can go, but no ceiling except that beyond which the individual engager will not go. In other words, you can push up, but they can’t push down below the minimums.
At DEGNZ we have worked hard with all the other screen guilds and associations to get the Screen Industry Worker Bill in place. The three unions in the screen industry—us, the Writers Guild and Equity NZ, the actors guild—are working with the Council of Trade Unions to try and get the best legislation for screen workers we can. But the battle is still not won.
New legislation is tricky to get through Government. It gets changed, watered down, and other things get in the way, like the Fair Pay Agreements that Government and other non-screen industry unions are hot on at the moment.
While we continue to work on getting the Screen Industry Workers Bill passed, I’d like to ask each and every one of you to familiarise yourself with the Bill, because it’s for you. You can read the current draft here, which we are seeking improvements to. You can learn about the legislative process here. And most importantly, you can talk to others about it, because once it is in place and we negotiate a collective agreement, each one of you will have an opportunity to vote on whether you want the minimums we bring to you. And if you don’t, your vote can tell us to go back and try again as long as you are a member with rights to vote.
That’s democracy in action in a union.