NZ passes "Hobbit" labor law at studio's urging

Thu Oct 28, 2010 11:20pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Handel

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After a day of angry debate, the New Zealand parliament has bowed to the will of Warner Bros., passing labor legislation designed to keep production of "The Hobbit" in New Zealand.

The legislation, which impedes or prevents unionization of film industry workers in the country, passed 66-50 on a party-line vote Friday local time, with the ruling center-right National Party and its partners in favor, and center-left Labour and the Greens opposed.

National emphasized the financial benefit of retaining the "Hobbit" production in country and described the legislation as a clarification of existing law. Labour, in contrast, charged angrily that the move "reduced New Zealand to a client state of a U.S. movie studio."

Separately, the government will pay Warners up to $25 million in subsidies and advertising spending, above some tens of millions of dollars already available under an incentive program. That led one member of parliament to decry a "NZ$34 million shakedown of the New Zealand government by Warner Bros."

Under the new legislation, workers involved with film or video game production will be independent contractors rather than employees, unless they enter into an agreement that provides that they are employees. Independent contractors cannot collectively bargain under New Zealand law.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Film Commission and tourism officials applauded a co-marketing aspect of the deal that will see promotional videos about New Zealand as a film and tourism destination on all Hobbit DVD's.

Suzanne Carter of Tourism New Zealand said that "the opportunity to showcase New Zealand internationally both on the screen and now in living rooms around the world is a dream come true."

In a separate development, key union leaders reported receiving death threats. Police have begun an investigation, according to a local press report.