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Rights of film workers in New Zealand could change under new bill

The Screen Women’s Action Group says there’s still “a lot of work to be done” to combat sexual harassment in the film industry, and it’s hoped a new bill will help.

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The Screen Industry Workers Bill would require a clear process for raising issues with bullying and harassment. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as current and former employees of Weta Workshop continue to come forward, after 1 NEWS revealed allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and a “toxic” workplace culture at the company.

Gaysorn Thavat of the Screen Women’s Action Group, also known as SWAG, says the culture of the New Zealand screen industry needs to be addressed.

“There’s still clearly issues around sexual harassment, a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

"If your organisation is so powerful that the people working within it are afraid to speak out in defence of their own safety, what kind of organisation are you running?"

Hannah*, a former Weta Workshop employee has told 1 NEWS she was subjected to daily bullying while working at the company.

“I was called names everyday … I had 20 different nicknames, some of which were overtly sexual in nature.”

She said as a contractor, she was too scared to raise it with senior management.

“Our contracts could be terminated so quickly … we just understood that we were like on a tight rope at all times.”

She says that’s a flow-on effect of the so-called "Hobbit Law", passed in 2010.

“The ‘Hobbit Law’ has been very insidious in the industry to make sure film and screen workers are locked into a lower tier of employment.”

The law came about after threats from international movie producers to move production of The Hobbit overseas.

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Weta Workshop is investigating after a sexual harrassment complaint by a former staffer, but others says the issues run far deeper.

The CTU’s Melissa Ansell-Bridges says it means screen industry contractors can't currently challenge their employment status, or engage in collective bargaining.

“Not having that ability to collectively bargain means that you're all as an individual trying to negotiate pay and conditions and generally what you see, and this is not just true for Weta but across the whole industry, is very much a take it or leave it.

"This is the job, this is the rate, this is the contract, if you want it, great - if you don't we'll find somebody else.”

There are hopes the Screen Industry Worker’s Bill, currently before Parliament, could improve things for film workers. If it passes, it would re-instate the ability for workers to collectively bargain, and provide more protection against bullying and harassment as clear processes will be required.

Workplace Relations Minister Andrew Little says the bill would ensure a “basic level of rights for workers in that industry”.

“It’s an improvement on what’s there at the moment where, if you’re in a contract, you can basically be sent down the road without any notice, without any rights at all.

“The bill makes an express provision in situations where you are fearful of dealing with your employer, you have protections around that. You cannot be targeted for raising issues with your employer.”

But the bill wouldn’t allow worker strikes, and full-time employees could still be classed as contractors.

Hannah* says she’s not confident the bill would protect workers from being fired if they came forward with complaints.

“Why would you feel confident going to that process if you're still a contractor and your contract can still be ended in five days?”

Weta Workshop General Manager David Wilks says the company has “no tolerance” for any form of harassment or bullying and is “deeply concerned” by the issues raised by 1 NEWS.

“We have a process in place to ensure there is support and advice for our crew, which can involve senior staff, our HR team and confidential counselling through our external Employee Assistance Programme and we are adding to this process.

“In addition, there is an independent and external inquiry underway, and we encourage any current or former staff member to contact the reviewer with any information they feel is relevant.”

The Screen Women’s Action Group has initiated professional respect workshops to tackle sexual harassment in the industry, in the wake of the global #MeToo movement. Fifteen courses are going ahead around the country this year, and Ms Thavat wants to see them made mandatory.

“All of them so far have been booked out … what we’ve discovered from the workshops is that all these situations generally happen when there’s an imbalance of power in the workplace. And that’s really something we heard time and time again.”

Ms Ansell-Bridges says people in the film industry are passionate about their craft, and often working in hard-to secure jobs, but that doesn’t mean there should be a “free pass” for bad behaviour.

“I think we can afford to be a little bit ambitious in terms of what we expect for people in the workplace, regardless of what the workplace is. I don't think it’s actually that ambitious to expect that people won't be bullied and sexually harassed at work.”

*Name has been changed

Do you have more information about this story? Contact our reporter Kristin Hall at kristin.hall@tvnz.co.nz