Peter Jackson statement re: Actors’ Equity & The Hobbit: “I was never asked for a meeting… not without a gun to my head.”
“All NZ Equity sought was to meet with the production and discuss the conditions under which performers would be engaged.…This request to meet was backed by the International Federation of Actors (FIA) and performers’ unions around the world including SAG and Equity UK. The request was in the first instance made privately, without the glare of the media on August 17. ”
Today Peter Jackson released the August 17th letter which was addressed not to himself, but to the US directors of 3 Foot 7 Limited. “I was not being asked to meet, I was copied on a request by the union to enter into collective bargaining with the US Directors of Warner Brothers production company, 3 Foot 7 Limited.”
The August 17th letter [which can be downloaded here: http://www.alliance.org.au/documents/letter1.pdf – Ed] reads:
Recently, The International Federation of Actors (FIA) became aware that the production of “The Hobbit” intends to hire performers under non-union contracts. For this reason FIA, at its most recent meeting, unanimously passed the following motion:
“Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical feature film “The Hobbit” until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the production”.
FIA therefore encourages you to meet immediately with representatives of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance in order to reach an agreement covering all performers engaged on this production.
In the first instance could you please make contact with Simon Whipp of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance.”
Jackson goes on to say: “This is the first time I was made aware of the issue. It was the first time a meeting was ever requested and it was clear from the letter, they had already voted to blacklist us, before even asking for one conversation with me. I am sick and tired of hearing Equity say ‘All we ever wanted was a meeting,’ because it’s disingenuous — they fail to add that from the outset, they had a gun to our head.”
“It just made me incredibly angry, I wondered how can a union behave like this? How could Simon Whipp initiate an international strike action against our film with no prior vote from the Kiwi membership?”
When NZ Equity did finally vote on the issue they didn’t ratify the international ban but, came up with a watered down version of the wording. “They couldn’t even agree to endorse an industrial action that had been taken out in their name. Frankly, the fact that all of this was driven by an Australian union official, only made me angrier. ”
NZ Equity has made numerous statements about wanting to meet with Peter Jackson to collectively bargain terms and conditions for all cast on The Hobbit. But Jackson was advised that collective bargaining is illegal for independent contractors under NZ law and he was warned against taking any meetings, whether it was on an official basis or having an informal chat ‘over a cup of tea.’ All the way through this period WingNut Films requests of the union to lift the blacklist were ignored, even after NZ Equity had admitted their request for collective bargaining was in fact illegal. “They are attempting to characterise their actions as an innocent request for a meeting, but the truth is they kept a loaded gun to our heads the entire time,” says Jackson.
Under their current rules the NZ Equity Executive are not obliged to consult with the membership before they undertake international industrial action. But Jackson says that any decision on industrial action should be made by the membership via a valid resolution.
“It amazes me that The Executive Officer of NZ Actor’s Equity can walk rough shod over our industry and the union itself fails to adhere to the most basic principles of democratic process. NZ Equity has given Simon Whipp absolute power and no one seems to care if he abuses it. He can threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Kiwis, jeopardise a huge financial investment to this country and he’s not held accountable. We are talking about an organisation that according to the MEAA’s 2009 annual report, has the sum total 85 New Zealand members. It’s unbelievable! ”