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DEGNZ President Howard Taylor signs off.

I am retiring from my role as president of the DEGNZ. Going, but not quite gone. As required by the constitution, I will be continuing as a board member for another year to ensure a smooth transition.

I regard being on the Board of the Guild an honour and a privilege. It is also a lot of work – as my fellow board members will attest. However, I believe that giving back in this way to the industry that has given me such a wonderful career is the least we can do.

I have been on the Board since we set the Guild up 25 years ago and I have been president for five years. I turned the role down twice because I felt, rightly or wrongly, that while I had spent a lifetime in the world of television, I was not familiar enough with the film world. That changed when, having written a feature film screenplay, I took part in a year-long course in international co-production of features. The new-found knowledge gave me the confidence to finally say yes to the role of president.

I am a great believer in Guilds and the role they play in the industry. The lobbying we do on our members behalf is very often unseen. There is a tendency for government and industry bodies like the NZFC to listen to producers and either forget the creatives or assume that producers speak for everyone. The voice of the director (and editor) in the debates that arise is vital.

While it would be wonderful for us all to have the freedom implied by the fact that film is an artform, we are constrained by the pressures of the commercial world. Those pressures impact us directly as an erosion of conditions and fees. The Guild has a key role in protecting what we currently have and promoting improvements. This will be tested when we put on our Union hat and go into negotiation with SPADA to negotiate minimum rates and conditions as set out in the new Screen Industry Worker legislation.

The Guild’s role in providing education and skills training to members is important in an industry where most training is for beginners.

Directors live in silos. It’s many years since I was on another director’s set. Watching other directors work is a valuable learning experience and it’s great the DEGNZ can give directors (and editors) that opportunity.

What I value most is the sense of fraternity that Guild membership brings. We look after each other. Yes, we are competitors for jobs, but in my experience the willingness of directors and editors to lend a hand to their fellows trumps any sense of competition. Guild membership gives me a sense of connectedness to the screen industry that I have never found anywhere else.

The Guild has evolved hugely over the years, becoming a sophisticated organisation dealing with a plethora of active issues. I am proud of what the Guild has achieved and look forward to its robust and noisy future. Kia kaha.

Howard Taylor
(Ex.) President

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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.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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Almost a year ago, the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ membership voted to become a union. At this year’s AGM on Saturday 5 October, DEGNZ will adopt a new constitution that will allow the Guild to formalise its status as a union and affiliate with the Council of Trade Unions.

I thought it worthwhile to provide some background information that will help members to better understand what this change of status is all about.

In trawling the Interweb to find background material to write this op-ed, I came across a two-part article from US entertainment lawyer Christopher Shiller that has essentially done the job for me. Yes, it applies to the US situation for the screen industry but it’s very pertinent to us, particularly with the changes that will come about from the Film Industry Working Group recommendations to Government that DEGNZ was a part of.

Here are the links to that two-part series.

Legally Speaking, It Depends – Guild or Union, Part 1

Legally Speaking, It Depends – Guild or Union, Part 2

At our AGM, the NZ Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff will give an overview of the CTU and speak to the CTU’s perspective on the work being done by the Film Industry Working Group to address the inequities of the Hobbit Law.

I encourage you all to read the articles from the links, and to attend the AGM — this will be a momentous occasion for DEGNZ in regard to its work to ensure the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of New Zealand directors and editors. Please RSVP to attend the AGM here.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive DIrector

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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

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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