Editorial: Unrest in Middle-earth

Last updated 09:17 12/12/2012

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Prime Minister John Key is reported to have refused to comment on the dismissal of a union official as a tour guide. It would be more accurate to say he does not see why he should be involved. Fair enough. It has little - if anything - to do with him.

But it does involve The Hobbit, a creature better treated by this Government than our endangered species. When Actors Equity took industrial action aimed at getting a better deal for members working on the movie in 2010, Mr Key intervened. He helped to fuel the public ostracising of the aggrieved unionists as economic saboteurs and his Government changed labour laws to benefit Warner Brothers. For good measure, the Hollywood film-maker was granted millions of dollars in additional tax breaks. Now we learn Todd Rippon, a member of Actors' Equity, has been dismissed as a Lord of the Rings tour guide. Radio New Zealand reported he was sacked for being a union official and for making a derogatory comment about the filming of The Hobbit movies during a tour for overseas journalists, a claim he denies.

The company is Rover Tours, whose owner, Scott Courtney, would not comment on what he called an employment matter. Hence we cannot be sure whether the tour comments or his union membership - or both - led to Mr Rippon's dismissal. But as employment lawyer Andrew Scott-Howman told Morning Report, the Employment Relations Act makes it illegal to discriminate against union members and workers can make a personal grievance complaint if this happens.

Opposition parties are trying to politicise the dismissal. Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, said it would be wrong if Mr Rippon's job loss was connected to his union membership. Her Green Party counterpart, Denise Roche, said the Government had created a climate of fear around the The Hobbit and sent a signal to employers that they can get away with treating unionists poorly.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly went further, saying this is something for which Mr Key, as minister of tourism, must take responsibility and investigate. She had cause for dismay at Mr Key's intervention to mollify Warner Brothers two years ago. This time she should be grateful the prime minister prefers to keep out.

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- Waikato

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