In comments, a reader writes in to disagree with my take on the situation:
No one is sayng that Peter Jackson doesn’t look after his cast and crew well. He actually has a reputation for being really good to work for. I was an extra in a Jackson movie and we were really well paid and looked after. The issue is that he just does it in individual contracts, rather than in union collective contracts. Under New Zealand law he is absolutely entitled to do that. In fact I have heard that he pays extras several times what they would get in some Eastern European countries where they are suggesting filming might be moved. It is not fair to suggest that he is not generous or doesn’t pay properly. The whole scenario is actually much more complicated than PJ not paying well – see http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1010/S00029/gordon-campbell-on-the-end-game-for-the-hobbit.htm
If you read that link though, you’ll see the argument Jackson and his collaborators are relying on, though, is that saying if they give in to a union contract, it’ll set a standard other filmmakers will have to meet. I’m sure Peter Jackson is a cool dude. But I find it unconvincing proof of his benevolence that he’s arguing against a union contract on the grounds that it’ll make extra’s wages higher in the future. Globalization isn’t an excuse to keep wages low everywhere: that’s an intensely corporate argument.