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NZ Government Changes Labor Law at Warner Bros. Prompting

After a day of angry debate, the New Zealand Parliament bowed to the will of Warner Bros. today, passing legislation sought by the studio to impede or prevent unionization of film industry workers in the country.

According to Prime Minister John Key, the bill was a studio requirement in order that the country retain production of The Hobbit. The legislation passed 66-50 on a party-line vote, with the ruling National Party and its partners in favor, and Labour and the Greens opposed.

National emphasized the financial benefit of retaining the Hobbit production in country and described the legislation as a clarification of existing law. Labour, in contrast, charged angrily that the move “reduced New Zealand to a client state of a U.S. movie studio.”

The bill is now law, but becomes “official,” a Parliament source told THR, when signed by the Governor General, an official who is the New Zealand representative of Queen Elizabeth II. That signature is expected Monday, the source said.

Separately, the government will pay Warners up to $25 million in subsidies and advertising spend, above some tens of millions of dollars already available under an incentive program.

That led one member of parliament to decry a “NZ$34 million shakedown of the New Zealand government by Warner Bros.”

Under the new legislation, workers involved with film or video game production will be independent contractors rather than employees, unless they enter into an agreement that provides that they are employees. Independent contractors cannot collectively bargain under New Zealand law.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Film Commission and tourism officials applauded a co-marketing aspect of the deal that will see promotional videos about New Zealand as a film and tourism destination on all Hobbit DVD’s.

Suzanne Carter of Tourism New Zealand said that “the opportunity to showcase New Zealand internationally both on the screen and now in living rooms around the world is a dream come true.”

In a separate development, key union leaders reported receiving death threats. Police have begun an investigation, according to a local press report.

Pip Bulbeck in Sydney contributed to this report.