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Thanks Unions - add $34m to Hobbit bill - blog

Thursday 28 Oct 2010 10:30 a.m.

President of the CTU Helen Kelly (NZPA)

President of the CTU Helen Kelly (NZPA)

By Patrick Gower

The union movement has cost the taxpayer $34 million. It's that simple. That's what the Government had to pay out to keep the Hobbit.

The unions have also given the Government room to ram through a law change that will seriously weaken their position - whoops!

The unions were so far off the mark they even caused what were essentially anti-union marches, on Labour Day of all days.

And the unions have written a script that says: "John Key saves the day for New Zealand from the nasty unions". That seriously undermines their credibility - what a shocker. It also strengthens the hand of Key - who the unions have been targeting.

This all adds up to give a new meaning to the word "perverse outcome".

There's been a lot of talk about this Hobbit business.

It’s best to stick to the facts.

There was no problem with The Hobbit until the unions kicked off.

The facts are, that on August 17 the international actor's union threatened to boycott the Hobbit on behalf of the New Zealand actors

That's huge.

And this makes the claims of the New Zealand actors that "we just wanted to get in the room" with Peter Jackson look totally disingenuous and misleading.

The letter shows they wanted far more than that - collective bargaining that would change the industry permanently - and that's not Jackson's role.

Once industrial relations get to the point of a threatened boycott, you can't just sit down and have a chat. Every word, every action matters.

In Jackson's words, the unions had a gun to his head.

And in a scene more reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino than Peter Jackson, Warner Bros turned up with an even bigger gun and put it to New Zealand's head.

Warners said, take your gun away - and give us all your money.

So Warners got the employment change, and some - but not all - the money.

They came down-under for two days work and walked away with up to $34 million.

The Government will offset the marketing costs with $13.4 million. It will also give extra tax breaks of $10 million to each of the movies - another $20 million.

This comes on top of the $60 million the Government was already pumping in - so almost $100 million.

Small beer to keep the $670 million project in New Zealand of course, especially considering the strengthening New Zealand dollar against the Greenback cut profit margins of the film big-time.

But the conspiracy theory advanced by unions that Jackson and Warners set this all up to get some cash out of the government is just ridiculous.

There is just no way to engineer something like this.

And don't forget the Greenback is strengthening all around the world. Warners would have currency hedging systems too.

But because of the union's actions, they were able to get in the door of Premier House and get negotiating and get some of the losses back.

To use the actor's phrase (correctly this time), they let Warner Bros "get in the room". And once in the room, Warners did the business.

John Key, Gerry Brownlee and company have done a good job negotiating against Warners who sources have told me were ruthless in there.

Key and Brownlee would be as unhappy about having to pander to Warner Bros as the next Kiwi.

They just did what was needed to keep the movies here.

They've tacked on some good spin-offs for New Zealand on the tourism front.

And I don't think any of them lost any sleep about getting to change employment law to benefit the boss. It would have been tempting to take that outside the film industry, but they've managed to resist that.

Hardly anyone's backing the unions here. Labour leader Phil Goff backed the conspiracy theory yesterday, saying they'd walked into a trap. He probably had no choice: the unions are Labour's main income stream. Labour hasn't laid a hit on National through this whole saga.

The Actor's union boss Simon Whipp has now headed back to Australia.

He showed his true colours in my story on Tuesday night, when he told my colleague Amanda Gillies he didn't care if the film was made in New Zealand.

Council of Trade Unions boss Helen Kelly got it wrong too. In my opinion, a good modern union leader could have seen where this was headed when she got involved, and thought about the wider work-force and New Zealand industry.

A good modern leader could have settled this down. But she poured petrol on the fire. The unions attacked Sir Peter Jackson - that was never going to work.

The unions have been wanting to rip into John Key. They've openly said that. They opened up at him at the National Party conference over the 90-day fire-at-will law.

But, as I noted at the time there were no workers there - just activists.

The 90-day bill issue hasn't taken off much from there since - unions admit that.

The unions and the left have been looking for something to nail Key with, and make them relevant again. A grassroots union revival like what happened with John Howard's "work choices" policy in Australia.

They got so desperate, that they got star-struck when the actors’ issue came along. They thought it could launch unions back into the spotlight via their popular actor friends.

But all they've done is make their target, Key, even more popular.

It was a flop.

The best scripts are simple.

And this one says: John Key winner, Unions losers.

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