Yesterday, the Government announced a review of rules and regulations for the use of agricultural vehicles, including working-time regulations, requirements for safety inspections of farm vehicles and the relaxing the restrictions on the use and standards of farm vehicles. They told us they have been listening to the industry.
But wait, hasn’t the Minister of Labour identified the agriculture sector as one of her “priority sectors” for action and resources in her Health and Safety Action Agenda? And rightly so, because farm vehicle accidents account for 23% of work related deaths and injuries in New Zealand.
Now the lowly-ranked Associate Minister of Transport (outside Cabinet) describes safety rules for agricultural and farm vehicles as “red tape”. Yep, he mentions the safety of the public, but not the workers. That, to me, says a lot about the Government’s attitude to workers’ health and safety. Sure, the farmers want to get their crops in on time. But I’m just as sure that the workers would like to work reasonable hours for fair pay and not have to put their life and those of others on the line.
We’re not talking unreasonable rules here. 13 hour days – just one break after 5.5 hours – no rights to breaks, and most employed as contractors, which means few rights in law.
The families whose loved ones have been affected by accidents in this industry because of short cuts, long working hours, a lack of rights and cutting corners will not see these regulations as “red tape” or too “inflexible” as the contractors have described them.
The question is: has the Minister of Labour been shafted again? Was she consulted about this review?
Just another example where the health and safety of workers has become a “nice to have” for this Government.