Every now and then, the government does something Labour agrees with.
We agree with increasing Health and Safety in the budget, and today’s announcement from Minister Kate Wilkinson of a Health and Safety Taskforce which will conduct a “wide ranging strategic review” of our Health and Safety laws, including legislation, regulation, incentives and enforcement is welcome. It’s a big step up from a couple of years ago when the government seemed to view health and safety as a “nice to have“.
I believe the Minister is genuinely concerned about our awful health and safety statistics, as we all should be. Labour proposed a Commission of Inquiry into Health and Safety as part of our election 2011 policy, so I’m pleased the government agrees that the current system needs a comprehensive review. We believe that New Zealand’s high workplace death and injury toll should be given the same ‘status’ as that given to the road toll – maybe the government agrees with that as well, because they’ve included former national manager road policing Paula Rose on the Taskforce.
So, a bouquet for Kate.
But she and her government continue to show a weird disconnect between the link between workplace health and safety and workers’ rights. They just don’t seem to get that a healthy and safe workplace goes hand in hand with a good workplace culture, effective worker participation and respect for the fundamental rights of workers. They don’t seem to understand the growing pressure in workplaces as jobs are cut to the bone, where workers are working longer hours than ever and taking shortcuts are often encouraged as a way to improve the stressed bottom line.
Our laws now allow sacking within 90 days for no reason, the government plans to weaken collective bargaining rights and introduce workplace experience ratings in ACC, which all discourage accident reporting. We might cover up our stats, but we won’t improve them, unless the government is prepared to fund an army of health and safety inspectors to enforce the law.
The Taskforce will be consulting the public. I hope everyone gets to have a say.