New Zealand government weighs into Hobbit battle

The New Zealand government on Thursday backed filmmaker Peter Jackson’s position in a union dispute that erupted over his latest Tolkien saga The Hobbit.

Jackson and his Hollywood backers have threatened to move the production from New Zealand after an actors’ union called for an international boycott of the film because he would not allow it to negotiate on behalf of its members.

The government said it had received legal advice that the film’s producers could be breaking industrial laws if they negotiated an agreement with the union, as actors were regarded as individual contractors, not employees.

“It would potentially represent price fixing for Peter Jackson or any other movie producers to enter into a collective agreement,” said a spokesperson for Attorney General Christopher Finlayson.

The union, NZ Actors Equity, is linked to Australia’s Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which Jackson has accused of “bully-boy” tactics as part of a campaign to muscle in on the New Zealand film industry.

New Zealand’s main union body said the conservative government should not take sides in the industrial dispute, calling on Finlayson to instead try to find a solution to the impasse.

“The minister hasn’t even talked to the union about what they want. He is basically siding with Peter Jackson when he should be facilitating talks between the parties,” New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said.

She said when the glitz and glamour surrounding the film industry was stripped away, it was an everyday case of workers trying to get minimum conditions from an employer.

Kelly said if Jackson followed through on a threat to relocate The Hobbit to eastern Europe, he would still face industrial issues as international actors’ unions were backing NZ Actors Equity.

“If he [Peter Jackson] moves the films ... the unions are going to follow him.
If they just talked then there are many things they could agree on and that’s the pathetic thing about his approach,” she said.

Finlayson’s spokesperson said the government was keen for the dispute to be settled so production could continue in New Zealand.

The Hobbit, a two-part prequel to The Lord of the Rings, has been stalled by financial woes at one of its main backers MGM, which faces debts of $3,7-billion and is negotiating a streamlined bankruptcy with creditors.

Mexican-born Guillermo Del Toro quit as director in May, citing almost two years of delays, with Lord of the Rings director Jackson expected to replace him at the helm.

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