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Brief Counsel

Hobbit Employment Bill - small, but perfectly formed?

29 October 2010

True to the terms of its deal with Warner Bros, the Government is rushing through a Bill to clarify the distinction between independent contractors and employees in the film industry.  

The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill aims to give film production companies confidence in New Zealand’s industrial relations landscape without affecting other parts of our employment law. 

Under the new Bill, workers engaged in film or video game production work will not be employees unless they enter an employment agreement which provides that they are an employee. 

The Bill applies to a range of performers (including actors, musicians and voice-over artists) and all workers involved in pre-production, production and post-production work, both on and off the set.  It excludes work on programmes initially intended for television. 

The new Bill will apply only to new contracts in the film industry, not to existing ones.

Contrary to union comments, whether a particular worker is a contractor or an employee is often unclear.  Film companies will benefit from the certainty that this new law provides.

Inevitably though, the legislation will extend beyond those who typically work in contractor roles during film production to capture workers (for example, permanent studio accounting staff) who are more properly characterised as employees. 

Most of those workers will have or be offered agreements which specify that they are employees.  If not, there is potential for some (unintended and probably limited) unfairness.

We hope that the rapid passage of specific legislation for a particular industry (and really for a particular business project, although it will live on beyond that) will be an extremely rare occurrence.  Businesses and employers in the film industry should recognise that this law gives them a real advantage, and they need to use that advantage responsibly.

For more information, please contact the lawyers featured.

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