How did the ADG finally become a union after so long in the wilderness, after so long vainly attempting to negotiate for directors’ rights and contracts against the iron curtain walls of SPAA and Commercial Television? When the idea of unionism was so long being opposed by a majority of ADG members who thought that negotiations with MEAA was still the way to go, when we all thought it too costly, too hard to achieve, too unnecessary?
What was the process? Who was involved? It was never easy, it was never straightforward, we were never confident but there are so many people who deserve our thanks.
At the finish, ADG President Ray Argall, ADG CEO Kingston Anderson and the lawyers, Greg Duffy, Michael Frankel and David Chin, did the important constitution rewriting and legal work with Fair Work Commission but the full unionisation of the ADG (originally ASDA) was 33 years coming and has had many contributors, many battles fought and many ADG boards where individuals disagreed, argued and fought for it.
ASDA, as many know, grew out of frustration with the original union for directors, the AT&AEA (Australian Theatrical and Amusements Employees’ Association), where directors were originally registered alongside projectionists, focus pullers and grips as ‘film technicians’. Through conflict of interest, the AT&AEA would not support directors’ protests about the use of an English director on a NSW government fully funded feature film, HOODWINK, in 1981.
Director Phil Noyce, President of ASDA in 1982, (of which he was a founding member along with Gillian Armstrong, James Ricketson and myself) just after its creation in protest at HOODWINK, suggested a 2% fee on all contracts backed by ASDA. He argued (rightly) that this was needed to pay lawyers, support the developments of contracts and pay for the administration. This was the forerunning suggestion for a union. Members left in droves, but it was Phil’s notion that we had to become a union, not just an association, to protect our members, that was born. Even though it was 13 years before we started to think seriously about it again.
In 1994 ASDA was invited to Toronto, Canada by the Canadian Director’s Guild President, John Juliani, (a Canadian actor, writer and director), for a meeting with the then DGA President Gene Reynolds (an actor in Our Gang, many movies and director of Leave it Beaver, The Andy Griffiths Show, My Three Sons, Hogan’s Heroes etc) and the British Union (BECTU) who had come instead of the Directors Guild of GB (I wasn’t impressed). I went as President of ASDA, paid for by the DGC. There was no rep from MEAA. At that meeting the DGC (represented by labour negotiator Neil Haggquist and President John Juliani and long term board influential member and former President Allan King (who had directed the great documentary Warrendale) and Gene Reynolds for the DGA argued strongly to me to get ASDA to form itself into a union. They pointed to the advantages in their own powerful organisations saying directors weren’t really protected unless you could go to arbitration. Over the years the support of the DGA’s Gene Reynolds and later Jack Shea (director of The Waltons, All in the Family, Cagney and Lacey etc) and Bryan Unger (Associate National Executive DGA) and Jay Roth (National Director DGA), Kathy Garmezy (DGA Associate Executive Director), and again of John Juliani, Allan King, Brian Baker and Neil Haggquist from the DGC, has been invaluable to our battle for unionisation.
In 1998 Canadian Neil Haggquist came to Australia to work for three weeks for ASDA to try and develop a standard TV contract with SPAA etc and show us how to negotiate. He did his best but the problem always was that SPAA didn’t have to accept any of the terms because we weren’t registered.
There was mild support in ASDA in the late nineteen nineties for unionisation but it was thought that MEAA (with whom the AT&AEA had now amalgamated) would make it politically impossible, the cost would be too great and not enough of the full membership were behind it. Members felt it would involve ASDA in expensive legal court action and that ASDA should concentrate on negotiating a deal with MEAA. I remember writing a long article as President, The Case for Registration, in the ASDA Newsletter in 1999, after the Farscape industrial battle for director’s wages with Channel Nine, arguing with members for unionisation…to no avail.
Richard Harris, as executive officer during a lot of this period, began in 1999 to make moves to register as a union with myself as President and later under new President Donald Crombie. In 2003 about eight directors contributed to an $8000 fighting fund for union registration (among them Ian Barry, Frank Arnold, Donald Crombie, Michael Carson, Geoff Nottage, Colin Budds, Howard Rubie and Peter Andrikidis). A TV director’s drama committee (between 2002 and 2006) consisting of Michael Carson, Mark Piper, Ian Gilmore, Sadie Chrestman (Cameron’s Mgt) Donald Crombie, Ray Argall, Geoff Nottage, Nicholas Cole, Ian Barry and Richard Harris, managed to get a Television Directors’ code of practise accepted by SPAA in 2005 (in principle only) but could never manage a proper contract because of our lack of registration. There were questionaires sent out to members about unionisation to no avail as the support wasn’t universal and most argued that the potential cost would break ASDA. There was a feeling too that the Howard era Work Choices was going to make it too complicated for us. ADG members had also been watching the AWG union campaign and the massive costs that were incurred so Richard Harris was encouraged only to concentrate on Retransmission Rights. When Work Choices was abolished in 2007-08 and the Labor Government established Fair Work Australia that became the Fair Work Commission it was a more conducive environment to revisit registration.
Even so, Richard Harris did a mountain of work in preparation for unionisation during that period, supported and encouraged by the boards at the time and the money from the directors. The ADG boards over this period beginning in the early 2000s included strong supporters like Frank Arnold, Michela Ledwidge, Nadia Tass, Rebecca Barry, Samantha Lang, Donald Crombie, Bob Connolly, Anthony Lucas, Stephen Wallace, Michael Frankel (one year 2008), Michael Thornhill, John Hughes, Ian Barry, Catriona McKenzie, Antoinette Starkiewicz, Darren Ashton, Ruth Cullen, David Curl, Vicki Sugars, Howard Rubie, Sue Brooks, Kay Pavlou, Michael Carson, Nick Cole, Robert Connolly, Tony Tilse, Graham Thorburn and Jill Hewitt. Peter Andrikidis and Jessica Hobbs consistently gave lots of support on television committees.
When Ray Argall became president in 2007 and Richard Harris left, the issue rose again. Harriet McKern, the new ADG manager, employed Needeya Islam as policy officer and, again with board support, she and Ray approached Michael Frankel about the union possibility. He suggested legal partner Greg Duffy to take up the case not only for unionisation but also for director’s copyright and the retransmission scheme in general.
For what seemed an eternity from 2009/10/11 Needeya and Ray and myself met in a sort of ‘rights committee’ in a furniture coffee shop in Surry Hills with Greg Duffy to discuss these issues plus unionisation and to work out what had to be done. Greg kept the focus on unionisation and suggested David Chin, a friend of his, as the union barrister. Ray, Needeya and I went to meet David. He took the case but told us that before he could act he had to have to a detailed history of the ADG and its relationship to MEAA over 30 years. That task fell to me…it took six months to research and write…but it was worth the effort because it confirmed to our lawyers how strong our case was. Ray and Greg and David began the preparations.
It was the appointment of Kingston Anderson (with his strong organisational skills) as executive officer in 2012, the ice cool determination of Ray Argall over many years and a very united board that year (Michela Ledwidge, Nadia Tass, Rebecca Barry, Samantha Lang, Donald Crombie, Bob Connolly, Anthony Lucas and myself) and the support of the full members at the AGM on 17 November 2012 which began the final process for the last two years. It’s important to note that the unionisation only happened because most of the directors in the ADG now wanted it. Directors realised there could be no fair contracts for directors unless the ADG was registered and could negotiate as the officially recognised voice for Australian screen directors, formally recognised by the relevant government agency and with the status and the ability to go to arbitration.
At the 2012 AGM the members were convinced enough with the preparatory work done by Greg Duffy and David Chin to pass a resolution to apply for registration as a union to the Fair Work Commission.
On 5th October, 2013 there was a vote of enough members at the AGM to adopt the required new constitution to accommodate Fair Work rules and in favour of the re-lodgement of the application. (There is a photo included of those present then).
In 2013, through an ASDACS opt-in scheme for money for directors copyright and other issues, 26 directors offered their ASDACS copyright (or part of their copyright) royalties to the ADG Union and copyright campaign in 2013/14. These directors were Peter Weir, Ken Cameron, Ali Ali, Catherine Millar, Ian Watson, Simon Wincer, Brendan Maher, Frank Shields, Geoffrey Nottage, Alex Proyas, Fred Schepisi, Rob Marchand, Ian Gilmour, Donald Crombie, Scott Hicks, G.T.Miller, Kevin Carlin, Kay Pavlou, Vincent Ward, Phillip Noyce, Ray Lawrence, Yoram Gross, Peter Butt and Robert Klenner. We should be grateful to them all. Some of them contributed over $1000 to the campaign.
In January 2014 Neil Haggquist, from Canada, came to Australia, again voluntarily, to give advice to Kingston Anderson about the unionisation. Neil still gives advice from Canada, where he continues to be based in British Columbia.
There had been a long battle within ASDACS about support for directors’ copyright, retransmission rights and director’s rights in general as well as the relationship between the ADG and ASDACS. This culminated in a new board and new administrator in 2014. This battle, led by myself, Bob Connolly, Donald Crombie, Ray Argall, Tom Zubrycki and Rob Marchand, though not directly related to the union battle was certainly a morale boost for the ADG.
After the ADG application was received and gazetted by the Fair Work Commission objections were received from SPAA, who objected to the wordings of our constitution regarding producer members (worrying about members as ‘employers), the Commonwealth Public Service Union (CPSU), who had members at the ABC and SBS, and MEAA, as the current registered organisation with the jurisdiction to represent directors had questions about our producer members (as possible employers) and wanted to retain any assistant directors they may have represented at the time (even though they didn’t represent all of them). The ADG didn’t want to compromise our guild’s new constitution and we went back and forth several times to our objectors with the amendments. In the end our compromises were relatively small. MEAA was the strongest objector, even though they had had very few directors on their books (about four I believe) but their objections were negotiated by Michael Frankel and then accommodated in an amended constitution.
After these adjustments Ray, Greg and David went to the Fair Work Commission together on 21 November 2014, for two hours, the three amigos representing over 350 directors (see photo). Monumental work from many people had gone into those two hours. The Fair Work Commission asked the ADG to take a vote among full members that required 75% of them to support the amended constitution.
There was a massive effort to get the numbers for the required percentage on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at an Extraordinary General Meeting at the Writers Centre in Rozelle. Fiona Verge, Kingston Anderson, Franky Lemke and Ray Argall worked overtime to get the votes. There were 273 votes in favour, most of them by proxy, no abstentions and no votes against. A photo of those who came to the meeting was taken and is included.
On Dec 17 2014 at 12.39pm Greg Duffy notified the FWC of the outcome of the Extraordinary General Meeting and seeking the order of Application by an Association for registration as an Organisation with the Fair Work Commission.
Our application, for registration of an industrial organisation, was approved on February 13 2015 by Vice-President Hatcher of the Fair Work Commission. We were now a union, the sole union for screen directors in Australia. It had taken 33 years. It was an historic day.
The preparation that our lawyers painstakingly put together over at least two years (with all of our input plus the constant work of Ray and Kingston) was what made our case so solid. We should also remember that although the campaign did cost hard cash (we’ve never calculated how much over those 33 years) Greg Duffy, Michael Frankel and David Chin often worked pro bono.
Finally, nothing would have been achieved if so many ordinary members had not fretted and sweated blood over so many years when it seemed for so long that it might never happen. It is those members who should be remembered, those members who are unsung, some of whom are already dead, but who did the work selflessly, paid money to the ADG selflessly, worked long hours selflessly. A lot of people who worked hard will never benefit from the union, they are too old now, but they did it for the future directors, they did it because they knew it had to be done, because they knew no one else would do it. Their satisfaction will come when there are new conditions, new contracts and new rights for Australian directors in future years.
Union Honour List
(in no particular order)
Kingston Anderson (ADG)
Richard Harris (ADG)
Sadie Chrestman (Camerons)
Needeya Islam (ADG)
Harriet McKern (ADG)
Franky Lemke (ADG)
Neil Haggquist (DGC)
John Juliani (DGC)
Allan King (DGC)
Brian Baker (DGC)
Gene Reynolds (DGA)
Jack Shea (DGA)
Bryan Unger (DGA)
Jay Roth (DGA)
Kathy Garmezy (DGA)