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Time For A Paradigm Shift

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At the Annual General Meeting on 6 October, the Guild and its membership voted on two remits from President Howard Taylor for DEGNZ to unionise and to affiliate with the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).

The motions passed and DEGNZ will unionise and affiliate with the CTU.

Essentially nothing will change.

We will still be the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ, but we will be constituted as a union and no longer as an incorporated society.

This brings us into line with our guild colleagues in Australia, Canada and the U.S., all of who are unions.

When DEGNZ was formed in Wellington in 1996 as the Screen Directors Guild of New Zealand, it was felt that directors weren’t well represented and needed a body that could best speak to their particular needs. Later of course, editors felt the same way and asked to join with us.

Our desire then as now is still the same: to ensure the creative, cultural and financial well-being of New Zealand directors and editors.

Well-known producer John Barnett in a Showtools interview not so long ago pooh-poohed the idea of DEGNZ becoming a union, saying that we’re in a talent-based business and he knows a few directors with vineyards and editors working fulltime, so a union’s no answer for anyone, not even those who don’t have an excess in talent. This was rather disingenuous of John because unions aren’t just about ensuring the wellbeing of the most talented. Rather, it’s the everyday working directors and editors who most need to have their welfares safeguarded and who are often most exploited, particularly those in the first few years of their careers. John mooted the idea of directors and editors using agents, but agents are talent-based and don’t take on everyone who comes through their doors. It is also the Directors Guild of America, a union, that has ensured a number of those vineyard-owning directors are well compensated, have pension plans and healthcare, and could afford to buy those vineyards.

Unions in New Zealand don’t have the power they once had and possibly nor should they. However, their roles are to represent their memberships to the best of their abilities. DEGNZ has been doing this for directors and now editors since its inception. It will continue to do so as a union.

On Wednesday Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway announced the recommendations from the Film Industry Working Group of which DEGNZ was a part. These recommendations may well lead to the Guild taking on the role of a negotiator in collective bargaining.

In our 2017 survey of directors and editors, which was independently conducted by Trace Research, at least 84% of respondents were interested in DEGNZ negotiating collective agreements with minimum rates and conditions. As a union, we will be better positioned to do so effectively with CTU support than if we had to shoulder the responsibility on our own.

The long and the short of it is: nothing much has changed and yet, everything has. As a union, DEGNZ will be well able to continue its role of representing the best interests of New Zealand directors and editors.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Correcting the Imbalance

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Ten years of business-focused government policy is now seeing a correction taking place in the New Zealand labour market.

Health and education have been the focus of recent labour matters, but thanks primarily to Radio New Zealand, the independent contractor market is now in the spotlight.

RNZ has put considerable effort into bringing into the open the plight of courier drivers, who are forced to operate as businesses, buying their own vehicles, uniforms, and scanners yet being dictated to by the companies that contract them as though they were employees. Worse, after deducting all their expenses, many it seems are earning less than the minimum wage. John Campbell interviewed Minister for Safety and Workplace relations Iain Lees-Galloway on this here. RNZ offered CEO Mark Troughear of Freightways, who owns NZ Couriers, the chance to respond here.

Thanks, or no thanks to the Hobbit Law, all film workers are classed as independent contractors and thus prevented from negotiating as a group to improve their terms and conditions.

Now I am not comparing the terms and conditions of courier drivers with those of screen industry workers. We all know which lot is in a better place. But we also all know that in the domestic screen industry, particularly with digital content, the unscrupulous are taking advantage of screen workers.

First Union are taking up the cause of courier drivers as you can read about here. And it’s the guilds’ role to represent the interests of those in the screen industry.

DEGNZ along with the other guilds took part in the Film Industry Working Group to address our (DEGNZ’s) and the government’s concerns about both the Hobbit Law and the inability of screen industry workers to collectively bargain. In due course those recommendations should be made public. All the guilds worked in good faith on this and represented their memberships as they are expected to do. Guilds are after all essentially unions, although some officially are not, including us.

Until now, DEGNZ has not been a union, although it has been a question that the board has asked itself—Should DEGNZ unionise? In the last few months the board has looked into this carefully, and met with various parties to weigh up the pros and cons.

At a recent board meeting, the board unanimously voted “Yes” to unionisation. This coming Annual General Meeting the board of DEGNZ will propose to the membership for the Guild to unionise and ask for a vote on it.

In the lead up to the AGM we want to give the membership as much opportunity as possible to make their views known, ask questions and debate the merits of unionisation.

This is an important issue that we will ask all paid-up financial members to decide upon, so do let us know what you think. And please put the AGM, scheduled for Saturday 6 October at 10AM in Auckland, in your diary. We would like as many of you as possible to come and hear why the board supports this view, and to get behind whatever decision is made.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Is it Time to be a Union?

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In 2000, the Guild, which is an incorporated society, discussed whether or not to become a craft union when the Labour Government passed the Employment Relations Act making collective bargaining possible. However, because the majority of Guild members continued to see themselves as freelance operators, there was never unified support for unionisation.

The Hobbit Law introduced in 2010 categorised all film workers as contractors, further preventing film workers from collective bargaining as contractors are unable to access collective bargaining mechanisms currently.

In the independently run DEGNZ membership survey of 2016, nearly 83 percent of the membership said that they would be interested in DEGNZ negotiating collective agreements with minimum rates and conditions on their behalf.

Earlier this year, Minister of Workplace Relations and Employment Iain Lees-Galloway gave The Film Industry Working Group (FIWG), which DEGNZ is participating in, the objective of making recommendations to the Government on changes to the regulatory framework for film industry workers to restore the rights of film production workers to collectively bargain in a way that:

  • Allows film production workers who wish to continue working as individual contractors to do so;
  • Provides certainty to encourage continued film investment in New Zealand by film production companies; and
  • Maintains competition between businesses offering film production services to promote a vibrant, strong and world-leading industry.

Now in 2018, we see the nurses engaged in collective negotiations, former prime minister Jim Bolger appointed to head the Fair Pay working group, and the FIWG some months into the task that Lees-Galloway set it.

Labour relations are coming full circle as is clearly obvious just from the newspaper headlines.

Unionisation has been on the DEGNZ board’s mind for more than the last two years, primarily because of deteriorating terms and conditions and rates of pay for directors and editors, even though many of our members are still contractors.

Do we need to unionise? Not necessarily. We are a craft guild and the representative body for working directors and editors in New Zealand. As long as we are endorsed as such by our membership and officially recognised by industry and government in our role, we are well positioned to continue to advocate, lobby and represent those who chose us to do so.

Internationally, the Directors Guild of America has long been a union. In Australia, the Australian Directors Guild became a union in 2014. Directors UK is both a collection society and a non-profit organisation like us that represents directors’ interests there. The Screen Directors Guild of Ireland is also not a union. What are the pluses and minuses you ask? So far we haven’t discovered anything that massively swings the pendulum either way. But we would like to hear your opinions. Does DEGNZ need to be a union to represent you?

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director