Written By: - Date published: 8:17 am, April 28th, 2014 - 15 comments
Categories: activism, capitalism, greens, health and safety, labour, same old national, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: darien fenton, helen kelly, simon bridges
I read the news about yesterday’s remembrance day, and today’s protest march with mixed feelings. It is a very sad indictment of our current employment conditions that so many people have died on the job in 20th century New Zealand. However, I also want to congratulate Helen Kelly for her support of the families, colleagues and friends of the deceased forestry workers. Her efforts have resulted in on-going coverage of the issue in the mainstream media.
Today on Stuff, Matt Stewart reports:
She never really knew her dad but six-year-old Skyla still finds it hard to be without him, forestry widow Deborah McMillan says.
Skyla was just about to turn two when her father Shane Frater, 28, was killed instantly when falling tree debris smashed into his head on a forestry block near Te Pohue in May 2009.
“She has days when she just sits down and cries out of nowhere,” McMillan said.
Skyla and her mother were just two of more than 100 family members of workers killed on the job at a memorial service held in Wellington to mark yesterday’s international day of remembrance.
The grieving families of forestry workers who have died on the job say the time has come to regulate an industry they believe is controlled by greedy forest owners who push their contractors too hard, ultimately risking workers’ lives.
The families will march for those killed at work and lobby Parliament today, calling for better regulations and a keener focus on health and safety in a multibillion-dollar industry that claimed 11 workers from a workforce of about 6500 last year.
Overall, 51 people died doing their jobs, making forestry the country’s most deadly industry.
The procession of the 100 grieving family members marks international Workers Memorial Day and will be led by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU), which is raising money to bring private prosecutions over at least two of the deaths.
CTU president Helen Kelly said forestry was six times more dangerous than any other industry but all of the five worst industries followed a theme.
“They’re all primarily de-unionised, have long hours, have very dominant employer relationships and are largely contracted where the principals don’t employ the workers.”
The government has marginalised the health and safety of workers , especially those in the most at-risk jobs, for too long. Key’s government has prioritized the interests of employers and big business. Simon Bridges, in a belated attempt at catch-up.
Labour Minister Simon Bridges said WorkSafe NZ had a clear mandate to bring down the death and injury toll in the workplace by 25 per cent in 2020.
Since August last year WorkSafe NZ had taken 300 enforcement actions in the forestry industry, including shutting down 25 operations, and there were currently two active prosecutions, he said.
Mr Bridges said the Health and Safety Reform Bill, currently at select committee, would overhaul the law and extend the duty to keep workers safe beyond the traditional employer.
Labour and the Greens are supporting the Bill as it is an improvement on current legislation, but, as shown in the speeches by the likes of Labour’s Darien Fenton and Damien O’Connor, and the Green MP Denise Roche. They are concerned about some of the fish hooks in the finer detail, as well as the weak representation of workers. Workers and unions have little voice in the procedures for health and safety, and health and safety representatives in the workplace are marginalised. For instance, in the debate for the first reading of the Bill in March, Fenton said:
Labour has called on the Minister time and again to recognise the importance of the role of unions, of business, and of the Government coming together to improve health and safety in this country, but it seems to be being ignored. And then there is the training of health and safety representatives. The bill recognises and implements a worker participation system but is silent on their rights to training.
but what is also needed is recognition by this Government that our current employment laws and its proposed changes to those will work against the good intentions of this bill. I am calling on the Minister, with the good work on this Health and Safety Reform Bill, to withdraw his Employment Relations Amendment Bill to show that he finally understands that workers’ rights go hand in hand with health and safety.