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Gordon Campbell on a union victory in the fast food industry

Gordon Campbell on a union victory in the fast food industry

Good to have a reminder of why trade unions are still essential in the 21st century. The scrapping of zero hour contract provisions by the Restaurant Brand group – which owns the KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Carl’s Junior fast food outlets – is a step forward to more humane conditions in part of the industry. It also marks a victory for the Unite union, which represents some 2,000 workers in the outlets concerned.

Under zero hour contracts, workers need to be always available for work but have no guarantee, day by day, of how many hours of work will eventuate. This has obvious implications for workers and their families. If zero hour provisions are invoked, they have great difficulty in planning a weekly budget for rent and food. The new terms are not ideal, but they do mark an improvement. Under the new collective contract, staff are guaranteed minimum hours – reportedly, at least 80 per cent of the average hours they have worked over a three-month period.

The battle against zero hour contracts now shifts to McDonalds, Burger King and Wendys, who have so far refused to budge on this issue. As Unite’s Mike Treen has pointed out, some of these outlets are mature businesses that have been operating in New Zealand for 30 or 40 years and that have plans for further expansion – so affordability isn’t an excuse. If those outlets should now end up facing a customer boycott as a result, they would have only themselves to blame. The culture of zero hour contracts, as Restaurant Brands eventually concluded, do not belong in the New Zealand work place. A decent starting wage should also be part of the culture that fast food operators recognise in this country.

Jobs and Hobbits

Talking of trade unions… we all remember how the role of trade unions was caricatured during the Great Hobbit Dispute of 2010. Obediently, the orcs in Peter Jackson’s factories marched to denounce the alleged union threat to their jobs, even though the industrial dispute in question had actually been resolved days before the marchers left the factory gates. The documentation that has been released subsequently has exonerated the union of the bogus claims whipped up at the time – claims that were used by the Key government to justify its abject cave-in to Warners during negotiations over (a) the extent of financial support to be gifted to the studios, and (b) the changes to work conditions in the film industry that they demanded. Again, in reality, by the time John Key and Gerry Brownlee sat down and surrendered meekly to Warners, the dispute with the union had already been resolved.

But…at least the government saved jobs in the film industry, right? Much as it may have been embarrassing for New Zealand to be seen to grovel before a US multinational, hey…at least they saved the jobs. Well, apparently not. This week, the Greens’ James Shaw has pointed to some telling figures from the Screen Industry Survey carried out by Statistics New Zealand.

Statistics New Zealand released annual data from its Screen Industry Survey today showing that the number of jobs in the industry has declined since a high in 2009 of 30,600 jobs to 27,100 in 2013, the latest year data exists for. The National Government promised an additional 3,000 jobs in 2010 when it made controversial changes to labour laws for Warner Bros and paid $95 million in subsidies and grants for the Hobbit films to be made here.

“National’s backroom deal with Warner Bros to create jobs in New Zealand’s movie industry has failed to deliver,” said Green Party economic development spokesperson James Shaw.

“Key promised 3,000 new jobs in 2010 when he weakened New Zealand’s labour laws and gave Warner Bros $95 million of taxpayer funds to secure the filming of the Hobbit here.

“Since 2009, the screen industry has shed 3,500 jobs…”

Sure, there have been some spin-off benefits from the movies, as Shaw says, for tourism and for our export sector. It is also true that film is always a cyclical, project driven business, where jobs wax and wane. All the more reason then, why work conditions on set should not be changed across the board and in perpetuity, merely to sweeten a particular deal.

If ‘Save the jobs!” was the catchcry in 2010 then the government’s moves have failed. Jobs in the film industry have since declined, not increased – and that’s the case even though we have thrown money at the Hollywood studios, increased the boodle available to them under the Large Budget Screen Production Fund and handed them the effectively de-unionised 19th century working conditions they demanded, for their allegedly 21st century industry. Away in their Dark Tower, the Warners chieftains must still be laughing about their raid on Hobbiton.

Stan Freberg RIP

Sad to hear of the death of Stan Freberg. In the 1950s, Freberg was the equivalent of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart – a satirist/comedian who did dead-on parodies of popular music, television and politics, and who also paid a career price for fighting against the broadcasting rules of the day. Later, Freberg became a strong critic of the Vietnam War, on the rare occasions when he was allowed back on network television (eg on the Smothers Brothers TV show, and Dick Cavett) to speak his mind. An innovator in the advertising industry, Freberg almost single-handedly created self-reflexive advertisements – which would mock the product, and its sales pitch as a way of amusing (and flattering) the consumer. Here’s one of his spoofs, a parody of the Dragnet TV show:

And then there’s this parody of the Lone Ranger, and the psychiatric profession:

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