Three days after Workers Memorial Day, the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Safety has just released its report. In finding the New Zealand workplace health and safety system is “not fit for purpose” the report provides yet another indictment of so-called light-handed regulation and a policy of leaving it all to the employers. The government will do a u-turn and set up an independent safety agency, and workers will have to be included in its management.
But incredibly Simon Bridges and the National government are still sticking to its old target of reducing workplace deaths by 25% by 2020. An average of 100 people die each year in New Zealand, way ahead of other advanced countries. The Taskforce thinks this target as modest – I think it means the government still doesn’t get it. One death at work is one too many - zero tolerance should be the policy, and zealous energy expended in bringing the number down sharply.
Last year the Taskfroce chairman Rod Jager was right on point:
“A 25 per cent reduction in 100 deaths is only 25. It still means we are killing 75 people in our workplaces and it still means we are worse than Australia and substantially worse than the UK,” Jager said.
In releasing the report this year he said:
Mr Jager said the Government’s target of a 25 percent reduction in workplace fatalities and injuries by 2020 was realistic but far from what the nation should aspire to. The Taskforce’s vision was that “within 10 years, New Zealand will be among the best places in the world for people to go to work and come home safe and sound”.
“Our vision is absolutely achievable but it will require an urgent, broad-based step-change in approach and a seismic shift in attitude,” says Mr Jager. “It will also require strong leadership, with businesses, workers, unions, industry organisations and the Government all having vital and shared roles to play in achieving this vision.”
And there is another problem. As Darien Fenton points out, National’s labour relations policy of giving more power to employers over workplace conditions works directly against the Taskforce’s strong recognition that it is vital to give workers more power over their safety conditions.
Finally, in an interesting article in today’s DomPost (as usual, not yet on-line) labour lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk points out another Simon Bridges contradiction in National’s labour law changes:
Interestingly, Bridges has described these changes as “technical” and “moderate”, while also saying “it’s about leveling the playing field. At the moment, the provisions around collective bargaining are tipped in the union’s favour.”
I am not sure that these two statements sit comfortably together – either the changes are simply technical, or they tilt the balance of power. Surely they cannot be both at the same time.
I am sure. The changes are meant to tip the balance of power even more firmly in favour of employers. That does not bode well for better health and safety, or a zero-tolerance approach to deaths in the workplace.