Self-employed or employee?

October 26, 2010 § 10 Comments

One of the big issues that has been at the heart of recent disputes has been the status of actors as employees on productions.

Currently the case is that we are not – we

are independent contractors but one of the agendas behind “The Hobbit” action was to shift the status of actors to employees. Benefits cited range from holiday pay to superannuation, ACC to health and safety. And, of course, the right to negotiate collective employment agreements.

In establishing the NZ Actors’ Guild we are looking to preserve actors’ self-employed status. But maybe you think differently…

Tell us about the up and down sides of being an independent contractor and let us know – do you want to remain self employed?

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§ 10 Responses to Self-employed or employee?

  • Frazer says:

    As an actor and active crew member in the industry for over 15 years,I believe we should remain independant contractors.You have the right to agree/disagree to any contract you undertake as you see fit.Your agent should be negotiating this(is this not what you partly pay a percentage of earnings for?)or yourself if you have that option.This has worked for me over the years,although I am not saying it is right for ALL!For example say a movie shoots for six months…would you consider being an employee?It is like seasonal work,It is temporary work,therefore I think it makes sense to remain the way we going.This is where it gets tricky,if a movie shoots longer than a year say…hmmm I don’t know I would have to think about that!Good on you guys at NZAG!

  • jed says:

    As an Independent Contractor I get to decide the working conditions I am prepared to accept. I have an Agent who negotiates the Rate and other variables on my behalf. For this I pay that agent. If i was asked to work for a significant length of time I would negotiate a deal that takes the length of term into account.
    My ability to negotiate is dependent upon how I value myself and also on the Experience and professionalism I bring to the project.
    This has worked well for me in the past and I like the flexibility it gives me.
    Having been an employee on several occasions prior and during this time The supposed Security of being part of a collective agreement was not particularly apparent.As an Adult working under New Zealand’s current laws, Deciding how I will be treated and how I treat others is a great freedom and a big responsibility . But one which i value as much as others Value the security of A union.

  • Geoff Houtman says:

    I think Parliament tomorrow may make this question redundant, but while it’s still relevant- indie contractor thanks.

  • John says:

    I’m not sure anyone wanted all actors to be treated as employees, just be entitled to collectively negotiate some across the board minimum conditions for contractors, like loadings in lieu of holiday pay, rights around consenting to having your voice over-dubbed (or at least being informed if it happens), principles surrounding residuals (which can only really be provided for on a collective basis) … There’s a whole range of things that can be in a standard contract then waived or modified in an individual negotiation, but at least they get thought of and dealt with upfront which is better for anyone down the track.

    As I understand it the Australians and Irish are able to negotiate collectively for contractors but the law has been ambiguous on that in NZ – and this is what will be dealt to tomorrow.

  • James says:

    Yes, ultimately NZ Industry Unions will hopefully finally be able to negotiate agreements on behalf of collective contractors.

    But the bad leadership of Actor’s Equity in this saga has put the fear into too many people of that ever happening soon.

    That’s the real tragedy for the NZ Film Industry Union movement.

  • Nellie says:

    About Me:
    I have worked as an actress in the NZ screen industry since 1981. I have also worked behind the camera in various production support roles. I have been employed by film production companies twice – all the other times I have been a contractor.

    It is easy to appreciate how wearying it is for actors / workers (especially of a certain age, ideology or point in career) to romanticise the rights of the worker, and how stable / secure it must be to have a real, ongoing employment contract – supposedly in perpetuity. I don’t mean to sound condescending about this! But I think it’s at the heart of the misguided move by Equity to hold one production to ransom in the hope of some industry-wide change towards this.

    However – the two times I was employed, I was laid off when the work dried up for those respective companies. They had work… it dried up… they laid people off.

    The redundant staff had a couple of weeks notice – as is normal under employment law. No juicy payouts. And for my trouble, I was paid less than a contractor. I also had no opportunities to claim back on costs and expenses. And I was taxed at a higher rate than a contractor!

    The simple fact is that the film industry is NOT stable, and that jobs come and go, no matter what your employment status. It is not always good for the nerves, and sometimes you get a good run – and often you don’t. I believe that being an employee as opposed to a contractor, creates an ILLUSION of stability – but in reality you are not necessarily any better off.

    If you organize your finances and expenses well, contracting can be rewarding and empowering. I am all for workers’ rights and the ability to negotiate – I am not sure how or where that comes in here – in my experience it has been a pretty individual thing.

    I think there will be more awareness of the Pink Book now, and producers who do not adhere to basic terms and conditions will be held to account more. That seems like a good result!

    Hope this helps.

  • Deana Elvins says:

    I’m in two minds about this one. For most work I am perfectly happy being self employed however I have one job where it would be of huge benefit to me to be an employee. I work mostly in voiceover and the industry standard at present is that there is no contract which leaves workers like me open to exploitation and my agent powerless to do anything about it.

    • Would an industry standard contract here help out being self-employed?

      • Deana Elvins says:

        Absolutely, I think this is an area where we could make real gains. And I think it is mutually beneficial. Right now the producers are also open to challenge. Being that there is no contract or agreement I have every right to claim that the fee paid was simply for a set period or territory and that I am due more money. It would be really interesting to see what a court would say about it. I have no will, want or means to want to test it however!! I mean I like working!
        John Key also stated that independent contractor status will be looked at more closely across all industries in the future to try and tidy up the employment law. I think that there is clarification needed in our industry. Because we are unable to subcontract we are a different kind of contractor. For long term and ongoing work I think there should be an expectation that provision for holidays, sick leave and notice for terminating the contract, or renegotiating the terms are included. And that contracts are necessary – without simply making things difficult or more admin heavy.

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