The Film Industry Working Group was tasked with reporting back to the minister by the end of June on ways to restore the right for film workers to bargain as a collective without stepping on the toes of people wanting to remain independent contractors. That work was specific to the film sector, but Lees-Galloway said it helped inform him more broadly on extending rights for workers in contracting roles. 

“I’m particularly interested in ensuring working people, no matter what type of relationship they’re in, have access to being able to be union members and potential access to the rights to collective bargaining,” he said. 

The government has legislation before the house to unwind industrial law changes restricting collective bargaining and has a separate working group tasked with investigating sector-wide collective agreements. The Fair Pay Agreements working group, chaired by former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, is due to report back next month. 

The film sector’s use of contractors has been a focal point for industrial law since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling against Peter Jackson’s Three Foot Six unit. The judges ruled that a model maker for Weta Workshops employed as an independent contractor was effectively an employee. The previous administration rewrote the law in 2010 after Hollywood studio Warner Bros threatened to pull filming of The Hobbit movie out of New Zealand. 

Lees-Galloway was part of a panel of ministers speaking to a Council of Trade Unions-hosted event on transitioning to a low-carbon economy. 

He said collective bargaining enhances the rights for working people and puts them in a stronger position to push for conditions that are appropriate to their industry and occupation. 

Unions have been wrestling with their relevance as more workers take on contract roles, which prevents them from collective bargaining due to anti-trust rules in the Commerce Act. There were 355,511 union members as at March 31, 2017, accounting for about 14 percent of the labour force at the time, Registrar of Unions figures show. That is down from 17 percent in 2012.

Lees-Galloway said he wants to make sure the employment relations framework is appropriate for everybody and that flexible arrangements don’t undermine job security. 

The Westpac McDermott Miller employee confidence survey last week showed workers were less optimistic about the jobs market, with dwindling expectations for a pay hike and fewer people feeling secure in their jobs. 

Lees-Galloway said the government will work with regions where a key industry – such as Taranaki energy sector –  is facing an existential change. He wants to have a regime where people can stay in the regions rather than gravitate to Auckland. 

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