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Spada's Response To Meaa Newsletter

27 October 2010

Spada's Response To Meaa Newsletter

Yesterday the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) issued a newsletter to its members, attempting to explain and justify the industrial action it initiated against THE HOBBIT. A number of statements made in this communication are mischievous, misleading or false.

At a time when SPADA was hoping trust and goodwill were restored, this communication is divisive and destructive.

The continued re-writing of history by MEAA as they try and paper over their failures must stop. The MEAA must acknowledge and accept the consequences of their actions. We have previously put out a Fact Sheet. In the light of yesterday’s mischievous and misleading release we feel it is important for us to make 11 key points:

1. MEAA Position:

"NZ Equity has also sought to bargain with the screen producers association SPADA. For a variety of reasons none of these attempts have been successful."

SPADA Response:

It is surprising that these 'variety of reasons' are not specified in their newsletter to members.

When MEAA first came into NZ, we received verbal assurances from Simon Whipp that they would abide by the Pink Book until we agreed otherwise.

In spite of this, on 4 separate occasions (Outrageous Fortune, This is Not My Life, The Cult, The Hobbit), MEAA have directly targeted productions.

In spite of this SPADA has consistently been happy to meet with Actors Equity.

SPADA initially offered to meet with NZ Actors' Equity in February 2009 to discuss the Code of Practice for the Engagement of Cast in the New Zealand Screen Production Industry dated 6 June 2005 (and more commonly known as the “Pink Book”). Subsequently SPADA offered to meet on a non agenda basis to have an open discussion in good faith.

However NZ Actors' Equity would only agree to meet to discuss an industry wide agreement containing conditions of employment no less favourable than those in Australia to be negotiated by the MEAA. This was unworkable given SPADA, as has been confirmed by the Attorney General, cannot legally enter into a union negotiated agreement.

On 1 October 2010 SPADA reiterated its offer to meet with NZ Actors' Equity.

On 12 October 2010 SPADA, having had no acceptance of its offer, again reiterated its offer to meet with NZ Actors' Equity, with some urgency.

Finally, on 14 October 2010 at a meeting brokered by Hon Gerry Brownlee, SPADA met with representatives of NZ Actors' Equity and the parties agreed they would enter a period of discussion and good faith negotiation on the Pink Book.

It is our absolute and clear opinion that Simon Whipp’s intention was to manipulate the situation in such a way that these meetings between SPADA and Equity never took place.

We believe it was his preference to engage in direct industrial action against productions. Which leads us to the second point.

2. MEAA Position:

"All NZ Equity sought was to meet with the production and discuss the conditions under which performers would be engaged."

SPADA Response:

All the polite chit chat about having a ‘cup of tea’ is a fantasy. The boycott (because that’s exactly what it was), began back in June. Well before the ‘cup of tea’ suggestions.

At a meeting believed to be n in June 2010, the FIA resolved as follows:

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 film The Hobbit until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions.”

At this point the production had not issued any final performer's contracts. Accordingly, neither MEAA nor FIA had any reason to believe that performers wouldn’t be contracted on “satisfactory terms and conditions”. They were prepared to boycott without any justification. Those terms and conditions have subsequently been found to be satisfactory by the NZ actors cast in roles.

NZ Actors Equity didn’t just seek a cup of tea / meeting with the production. An international boycott was issued prior to a meeting being sought on 17 August 2010.

And don’t forget that collective bargaining with the producer is illegal, something confirmed by the Attorney General and the Crown Law Office, and that Simon Whipp should have known before activating the boycott.

3. MEAA Position:

"The Board formed the view that in the interests of harmony between cast and crew and for the sake of the NZ screen industry the commitments made in discussions with SPADA were significant enough to justify ending the dispute with The Hobbit."

SPADA response:

What SPADA agreed recently is exactly what we’ve been trying to achieve for some time. What SPADA “committed to” is to meet. What MEAA have achieved is what they would have got if they had sat down with us over 18 months.

4. MEAA Position:

"Why is the studio behind The Hobbit talking about moving the production away from New Zealand? This is not due to industrial uncertainty."

SPADA response:

This sort of disingenuous mischievous nonsense is sadly becoming the norm. Before the boycott the film would have been shot here without the events of the past few weeks. Boycott equals industrial uncertainty. Industrial uncertainty is what’s caused this mess. Without the boycott there is no question that the production would have calmly gone ahead without any visit required by a major delegation of Warner execs.

5. MEAA Position:

"Was our campaign for a fair deal on The Hobbit worthwhile?"

The contracts now being offered by the producers of The Hobbit include conditions such as residual payments for performers. This is a great result considering how reluctant the producers were to improve performers’ terms and conditions.

SPADA Response:

We understood the deal now being accepted by agents for local actors on The Hobbit has not in any way been improved by the actions of MEAA. The residual deal was in place prior to MEAA's actions, it was offered by the production. MEAA has achieved nothing positive by its actions.

6. MEAA Position:

"Was our campaign for a fair deal on The Hobbit worthwhile?"

"As well as this, SPADA has agreed to meet with Equity to discuss performers’ terms and conditions for future screen productions."

SPADA Response:

As previously stated we are now entering a negotiation period around the Pink Book, exactly what SPADA offered to do over 18 months ago. Ask yourself the rhetorical question. Have they achieved anything new?

7. MEAA Position:

"In the past the conditions set out in the Pink Book have been completely disregarded by producers."

SPADA Response:

Not true and no examples have ever been given by union.

8. MEAA Position:

"The Pink Book is now being used as minimum – this is a huge step forward."

SPADA Response:

This is a complete misrepresentation by MEAA. The Pink Book has been widely used in the industry and will continue to be used until it’s updated / improved at our next round of meetings.

9. MEAA Position:

"Our actions in no way jeopardised the filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand."

SPADA Response:

Patently not true... and not believed by the NZ public as per public opinion polls

10. MEAA Position:

"It is ridiculous to say that asking for a meeting could have such an effect."

SPADA Response:

As has been repeated several times the boycott was the major factor in creating the industrial concern which motivated Warners to look twice at NZ and seek a better deal.

11. MEAA Position:

"New Zealand performers approached this issue in a calm and professional manner and have every reason to be extremely proud of themselves."

SPADA response:

Well that is a matter of opinion! SPADA doesn’t believe so and based on yesterday's newsletter our faith in MEAA’s ability to conduct good faith negotiations has all but been eroded. The one time in the last 2 years SPADA have sat in the room with the MEAA, we felt positive about being able to move ahead in a considered, responsible and professional manner. Either side of that 3 hour meeting, it is our opinion that they have been mischievous and misleading to their members and the general public.

MEAA's, and in particular Simon Whipp's, influence on the New Zealand screen production industry has been nothing but divisive and destructive. This is not a union working to save THE HOBBIT, nor acting in the best interests of New Zealand, this is a union that continues to promote misinformation and mistruths for its own self-interest and preservation.

It is vital for New Zealand's reputation in the international film community that a climate of goodwill and trust is rapidly restored. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this is unlikely if Simon Whipp and MEAA are in any way involved.


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