Because writers work in a creative field the focus is often on creative matters and not on the relationships between those working together. However, writing is a job just like any other and the conditions of any engagement need to be fair and reasonable for both parties.

Conditions and Contracts

How a writer is engaged on a project is typically determined by a contract. Contracts should always be in writing and set down the relationship between the parties. The detail of this relationship is known as the ‘conditions’ of work.

In New Zealand, unlike other screen industries, there are no minimum agreements to provide a bottom line of rates and conditions for engaging writers. The Employment Relations Act, which enables unions to bargain with employers, does not cover contractors and most writers in New Zealand work as contractors. Because of this it is vital that writers ensure their contracts are comprehensive and sufficiently administer the relationship between them and the producer.

The Guild provides various model agreements and contract materials – these are available free of charge to members. More detailed information on contracts can be found here.

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Employee Or A Contractor?

The New Zealand screen industry is based almost exclusively around the ‘contractor’ model. A ‘contractor’ is a self-employed individual who is engaged on a contract for service as opposed to an ‘employee’ who works for an employer on a contract of service.

Because of the way they work most self-employed writers will be contractors. However, a writer who is engaged on a long-term contract by a single employer may legally be an employee.

Why Does My Status Matter?

It’s important to be aware of the difference because it affects your liability for tax, GST and Accident Compensation. As an employee you have certain rights to pay, conditions of work and holidays not available to contractors. As a contractor you have the ability to claim certain amounts as tax deductibles.

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Are There Tests To Determine My Status?

There are no official ‘tests’ that will help a writer determine whether they are a contractor or employee but the IRD provides a useful set of guidelines (from their IR336 publication). These are similar to guidelines used by accountants and lawyers.

Excerpt From Self Employed or Employee IR336

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If I’m An Employee Will I Lose The Tax Benefits I Have As A Contractor?

You will lose the ability to claim certain things as tax deductibles. However, you will gain the advantages of being an employee including rights to statutory holidays, redundancy and leave such as parental leave, bereavement leave and sick leave. If you belong to a union you can also collectively bargain alongside other employees for better pay and conditions of work something you could not do as a contractor.

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A Guide to Minimum Rights for Employees and Contractors

The vast majority of script writers in New Zealand work as contractors. Because of this writers miss out on a range of rights and privileges afforded to employees. These are things that employees take for granted, such as a minimum amount of annual leave, paid public holidays, sick and bereavement leave and a mandated grievance procedure.

The NZWG has prepared a comparison of the rights of employees and contractors so that contractors understand exactly what they are missing out on.

We suggest that writers use these guides to learn what rights employees are entitled to and then negotiate for some of those rights in your contracts.

Also available from the NZWG is A Guide to Negotiating Contracts, a concise list of negotiating tips.

A Guide to Minimum Rights for Employees and Contractors
A Guide to Negotiating Contracts

Bryson v Three Foot Six

In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that a contractor working on Lord of the Rings was, in fact, an employee. Although the case has yet to have a major impact on how people are contracted in the screen industry it is important that all contractors understand the circumstances and possible effects of the case.

Bryson v Three Foot Six

Advice for Employees

Employment relationships are complex and cover a wide range of issues.

The Guild provides advice to members on specific employment matters.

Very good, free information and advice on general employment matters can be found at the Employment Relations Service The site contains information for both employees and employers.

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Advice for Contractors

Most writers working in the New Zealand industry work as contractors. Because of the nature of the contracting relationship it is necessarily a looser and more fluid arrangement than that of the employee-employer relationship.

The Guild provides advice to members on specific matters relating to contractors. Answers to commonly asked legal and contract questions can be found here.

Harassment and the Contractor

Almost all writers in New Zealand work on Contract where there are not necessarily policies and procedures in place to protect them. What does a contractor do if they find themselves subjected to harassment ? The NZWG has prepared the following guide.

Harassment and the Contactor

Code by Michael Bao