Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘Health and Safety’

“The fact is that a lot of bad things happen to people at work in NZ”

Posted by on May 5th, 2013

That’s a direct quote from the report of the hard hitting and comprehensive Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety, which was released last week.

And here’s another :

Labour market liberalisation in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in a sustained fall in union membership and growth in casual, part-time and short-term employment relationships. This has had enduring implications for the capacity of workers and representatives to engage with employers in managing workplace hazards, and presents ongoing challenges for the regulatory framework. It is likely that this factor influenced omissions from the HSE Act, including the failure to establish a tripartite body and to set obligations requiring employers to have formal worker-participation systems.

The Independent Taskforce members (made up of business, community and union representatives) have done an excellent job. Their report is very challenging, not least for the government, who say they will respond in June.

The report calls for tripartite involvement in the new health and safety agency and proper recognition of the role of unions and worker participation.  It says there needs to be stronger rights for workers who raise health and safety concerns and protection for vulnerable workers, including new workers and those in precarious work.

I’m waiting for Simon Bridges to admit his labour law amendments, announced just a few days before are incompatible with the recommendations of the Health and Safety Taskforce.  The government’s proposed changes to labour law essentially rebadge the Employment Contract Act changes from last century and they will exacerbate the problems identified by the Taskforce. They are even as petty as cutting rest and meal breaks and letting an employer decide if and when they can be taken.  How does that help health and safety?

It’s time to join the dots Simon.

Workers’ rights and health and safety at work go hand in hand. We all agree our workplace death and injury toll is a disgrace.

Please don’t make it worse.


What killed Ken Callow?

Posted by on February 19th, 2013

Forestry is the most dangerous industry in New Zealand. In 2013 there have already been two deaths. Since 2008, 23 workers have died and almost 900 have been seriously injured. 

A New Zealand forestry worker is 6 times more likely to die at work than a UK forestry worker, and twice as likely as an Australian forestry worker. 

Each death is a family, community, workplace losing someone who was loved. Each injury is someone’s life being changed forever by something that happened at work. 

We need the government and the industry to step up and stop this from happening.

Read more about Ken Callow here. 

Some things are bigger than politics

Posted by on September 16th, 2012

The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson has been coming under fire in some quarters for not pushing through changes to employment laws – the people who think all National needs to do is smash unions and everything will be back to its rightful place in the world.

Labour will mount strong opposition to any changes to the Employment Relations Act that undermine collective bargaining and wage setting. The already signalled employment law changes are designed to undermine the role of unions as standard setters for hundreds of thousands of New Zealand wage and salary earners – whether they are union members or not. Simply put, it will help drive wages lower.

Many reports about growing inequality, including those from the OECD and IMF, acknowledge the decline of collective bargaining and unions as a contributor to the growing gap between rich and poor. Labour will stand up for unions as the internationally recognised partner in collective bargaining, because there is no other proven method or system to help working people receive decent wages, safe working conditions, or a voice on the job.

But I want to give credit to Kate Wilkinson who believes that tackling our awful death and injury toll in the workplace goes beyond politics and there should be cross party work on it. Labour agrees and has taken up her offer to be consulted about the Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety. The Taskforce’s consultation document was released today.

The deaths of 29 miners at Pike River and subsequent industrial disasters have shocked us all. The memories of those who died at work demand we work together to ensure that these kind of losses never happens again – no matter who the government is. 100 workers die every year in New Zealand’s workplaces and this is one workplace statistic we beat Australia at  – to our shame.

There will be areas where Labour will disagree and we will say so. We will have differences about workplace rights and their interface with health and safety. We cannot expect people to speak out about dangerous work practices if they are on a 90 day trial, for example.

And I’m sure that saying nice things about the Minister won’t help her with the puerile campaign from CrestClean and their supporters.

But some things, such as tackling our appalling record of  workers dying or being injured on the job every week, are just more important than politics.

Every now and then……

Posted by on June 6th, 2012

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.

Workers Memorial Day

Posted by on April 28th, 2011

Today (28th April) is International Workers Memorial Day, where we remember the workers killed, injured or made unwell by their work. This is the day where we mourn those who have died and pledge to fight for the living.

I was in Christchurch today at the memorial service, and there were others around the country, including on the West Coast, in another sad remembrance of the 29 miners killed at Pike River Mine last year.

In Christchurch, workers killed and injured were just going about their daily jobs and were the innocent victims of a cataclysmic event.

We can’t say that about Pike River. This was no unavoidable accident and we must know what caused it, how it could be prevented in the future and what a government’s responsibility for that should be. I will be in Blackball on Saturday for another commemoration – where I will have the chance to hear directly from those most affected.

Unfortunately, today Brash’s coup dominates the media, so you won’t read about these memorial events. You won’t hear about the workers who lost their lives last year in workplace accidents, including the Pike River MIners. You won’t hear about the 700 workers who die prematurely from work related illness or disease every year. You won’t hear about the 200,000 workers who suffer serious harm in the workplace each year.

If these were crime statistics, it would be leading the news and the Sensible Sentencing Trust would be calling for blood.

Despite decades of action by unions, workers and pro-worker governments which have resulted in significant improvements to safer working conditions, the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths in New Zealand workplaces remains too high. Many of these deaths and injuries are easily preventable, but the relentless pursuit of the bottom line costs workers in more than pay and conditions.

Tight economic conditions mean some businesses take shortcuts and workers bear the consequences. Most at risk are those who work on their own account, or as dependent contractors, where the struggle to make ends meet is tougher than it’s been in years. It’s no accident that the construction, fishing, forestry and agriculture industries have a much higher percentage of accidents in New Zealand workplaces.

New Zealand’s history of workplace health and safety also has a legacy we must face up to. The workplace injuries didn’t just happen in the last year. There are hundreds of thousands of workers who suffered injuries on the job in their former working lives. I meet them all the time – the old factory workers, the forestry workers, the labourers, who suffered harm at work as younger men or women, and now are bewildered to find that the support they were receiving from our world-class ACC system has been cut.

Try explaining to someone whose worked hard all of his life, who lost his hearing because of workplace conditions and lack of prevention, that he should no longer qualify for ACC funding to upgrade his fading hearing aid, because Nick Smith has decided his injury is due to “degenerative” conditions.

Today, on Workers Memorial Day, we remember those who have been lost or injured at work. We can only imagine what it is like to say goodbye to a loved one at the beginning of the working day and not have them return at the end. It shouldn’t happen.

It’s a day that we join with others to renew our determination to work together for safer workplaces.

That’s what I’ve been doing today.

Workers Memorial Day

Posted by on April 28th, 2010

workers_memorial_dayWorkers Memorial Day is the day where working people join together to mourn New Zealand workers and workers throughout the world who are injured, diseased or killed on the job.  In New Zealand one worker a week is killed on the job every week, and thousands more injured.

It’s ironic that parliament is currently debating a weakening of the right of workers to rest breaks, when evidence shows that without proper breaks, workers have a greater risk of accidents. 

At the same time, the government has been cutting workplace health and safety programmes and reducing entitlements to ACC.

So, today is indeed a day to mourn for the dead, but fight for the living!