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Is it always better late than never?

Written By: - Date published: 6:26 pm, January 29th, 2014 - 15 comments
Categories: accountability, Economy, health and safety, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

Minister of Labour Simon Bridges today said he welcomed the Review of Forestry Safety and that he has asked Worksafe NZ to review the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) into the forestry sector to “clarify them”.

Chris Finlayson was the Minister when the current regulations (ACOP) were signed off new in December 2012.  He said at the time:

“This Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) has been developed in partnership with industry representatives and other agencies and it focuses on improving safety practices and reducing workplace accidents in the industry. It will contribute towards the Minister of Labour’s target of reducing workplace deaths and serious injuries by at least 25 percent by 2020”.

Todd McLay officially launched them saying

“The launch of this ACOP is a big step towards reducing the work toll in the forestry sector. Too many workers are seriously injured or killed while undertaking forestry operations, particularly in the tasks of tree felling and breaking out. The new code aims to ‘lift the bar’ and introduce standards that will help the sector improve its health and safety record,”

Meanwhile the CTU and forestry families were raising concern about the quality of the ACOP in every quarter and being slapped down as more and more workers were hurt.

For the record:

12 December 2012: Workplace Health and Safety Council Meeting minutes;

In a session with David Smol (CEO of MBIE):  “Helen Kelly used the example of the forestry sector … She was also disappointed that the recent ACOP for forestry did not make mention of employee participation or provide details about working conditions and worker well-being.  David Smol said that MBIE will review the forestry ACOP, content and consultation and would speak to Helen Kelly at a later date. 

In a session with the Acting Minister of Labour (Finlayson):  “Helen Kelly again brought up the forestry ACOP with the Minister.  She expressed her concern about the injury rates in the industry.  She feels the ACOP is not specific or detailed enough.  She told the Council that the CTU is developing a campaign for forestry families.  She is worried about the fatigue of workers and well-being not being addressed”

 18 December 2012.  Letter from Chris Finlayson in response including:

The ACOP provides practical safety advice to both employers and employees to ensure they are complying with the HSE Act… Working conditions and worker health issues are addressed in section 2.9 of the forestry ACOP, which clearly places responsibilities on employers to provide training on nutrition and hydration, stress, fatigue and substance abuse.”

21 December 2012: I replied including:

Our view is that the structure of working in these industries has denied workers access to basic work rights including to safe working conditions and that this is a core contributor to the accident record…The action plan and forestry ACOPS continue this situation…. Specifically we do not agree with you that the ACOP provides practical safety advice to employers and employers to comply with the Act… Secondly it ignores the serious issues of employment rights including for example fatigue….There is no mention … of maximum rests between shifts, of maximum working hours or rotation of tasks… nothing about night work or shift work… and very little about managing adverse weather”.

20 Feb 2013 Simon Bridges writes back including:

“I am advised that the Ministry is not aware of any evidence suggesting the differences between accident rates in Australia and NZ that can be attributed to the difference in standards between the two countries and how there are articulated though codes of practice [but apart from that, no answers are provided to my criticisms of the ACOP]”

 I raise the matter  in a meeting with ACC Minister Judith Collins (I know!). 

On 29 April 2013 she writes including:

“The Government is taking action to make forestry safer.  In December 2012 MBIE launched a new ACOP.  This was developed in conjunction with ACC and the Forest Owners Association and had worker input”. 

On 2 May, I visit a forest crew with Simon Bridges – it is a good crew but does not have the required worker participation system.

On 3 May 2013 I follow up with a letter including:

“I don’t think it is possible for you to now assert the ACOP is working.  Effectively the contractor we saw is breaking the law but probably complying with the ACOP… An inquiry into this industry could be done in many ways… I hope today you will reconsider this proposal and we of course are happy to talk more about how this might be done.” 

On 9 May 2013 Simon Bridges replies including:

“The ACOP cements this commitment [to work collaboratively with industry and workers to drive a lift in safety culture]…. It is the first step of the long term commitment between industry and the Ministry to change behaviour… It will take time to embed, but I believe it is starting to make a real difference… As I have previously stated there will be no Government inquiry into the forestry sector….”

 On 3 July the TV programme Third Degree confirms the Forest Owners will hold their own independent inquiry.  I text Simon Bridges:

“Hi Simon.  Helen Kelly here.  Tonight forest owners said they want independent inquiry.  Can we talk about it and wee if we can agree something?  Better than this argy bargy and it will make a difference.  Canada did it 3 years ago and ACC rate halved”

 He replied:  “Hi Helen.  My position for the Govt hasn’t changed.  I don’t believe an inquiry will achieve what people who care the most think it will.  Simon”

 I replied:  “That’s a big call given even the industry thinks it would be useful.  I would have liked to have floated a proposal to you but up to you.”

 On 7 July I give Bill English a briefing paper on the ACOP urging him to raise the matter with Bridges and get it improved, including:

“The recently released COP [ACOP] will not make the difference… the ACOP also ignores the serious issue of employment rights including for example fatigue…The forest owners have now said they will agree an independent inquiry.  We need Government support for this”. 

 Today (after the most year of catastrophe in our forests ) Labour Minister Simon Bridges welcomed the announcement of an industry-led inquiry into forestry safety…and said the ACOP will be reviewed

 “I encourage the inquiry to report back swiftly so that Government can seriously consider all recommendations as quickly as possible,” Mr Bridges says.

 “[As a result of non compliance with the ACOP] … I have directed WorkSafe NZ to urgently review the Approved Code of Practice to clarify what is expected from forest owners, managers and operators under the law.





15 comments on “Is it always better late than never?”

  1. One Anonymous Knucklehead 1

    Looks like brave Sir Simon Bridges did his best to avoid his personal responsibility, and failed, and ran away.

  2. karol 2

    Result! Some good news after a disastrous year in forestry.

    A long slog, but finally something positive, Helen.

  3. Tracey 3

    Unfortunately the actual timeline you outline will never see the light of day… so smiley and chuckles and the gang can pretend to trying to save workers.

  4. Ad 4

    Great record there Helen.

    I can’t think of a similar moment when a Minister failed to act in an industry with that many deaths.

    Also astonishing that the Minister could not even take the lead when the industry begged for him to do so.

    Mr Bridges is one fo the worst signs of intrnal renewal within National that I have seen. Simon Bridges’ social awareness – with the greatest respect to all my relatives in Otangaroa valley – makes Dr Finlayson look like a Swanndri-sleeping dope-rolling barefoot hillbilly pip-spitter.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    Death after death after death with no response other than paperwork shows how weak as a force, despite some valiant efforts, organised labour is in this country at the moment. The entire forestry sector should have been on a go-slow work to rule 6 months ago.

  6. Philj 6

    Helen, do you really think the Labour party will really serve the workers interests? Some strong action is needed, not verbiage, from Labour

  7. NZ Forestry Joke. 50% operators fail OSH inspection. So 50% should lose licence. SIMPLE. Can’t believe media/unions falling for “review”.

    • Colonial Viper 7.1


      Whole forestry sector should have been on strike 6 months ago, after the umpteenth death. What on earth does it take now to get an industry on a go-slow, work to rule or strike.

      Even mass deaths don’t seem to make the grade. Instead we have to wait for Tory bureaucrats to pretend to make an effort with wet bus tickets and when they do its seen as a sign of progress (!)

      • Tracey 7.1.1

        Whats needed is across industry response… construction still has a bad record too…

        Some groups with faces of those who have died and suffered serious injury in last few years.

        • Colonial Viper

          Yep. Solidarity across industries. This is exactly what the old labour movement understood to the core as the only effective strategy, and a few people today do still understand.

          • Tracey

            Until made illegal…

            Maybe one day it will be illegal to make a company decision based Only on the size of the profit to shareholder. One aspect but not the only criteria.

  8. Maryanne Butler-Finlay 8

    Game on Simon. United we stand!

  9. adam 9

    Good on ya for keeping up the pressure Helen. But have to agree with Kevin – a review seems like a slap with a wet bus ticket.

  10. Tracey 10

    Its worth a one page add in a paper… or a poster in workplaces.

  11. xtasy 11

    Well, I appreciate you do some good work with the CTU and your agenda, Helen, but I worry that this will be used by the industry to “white wash” their failings and walk away looking like almost “do gooders”, while the state and unions need more input and power.

    This is to me only one first step in the right direction, and it shows how powerful the business lobby has become, to exert a lot of power, while unions are left begging to the minister and others.

    Time for a change, and time for workers, also contractors, to realise, united we stand, divided we fall!

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