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Remembering forestry workers

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: , ,

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.


On NZ Herald, Natalie Akoorie reports on today’s procession to parliament:

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.



15 comments on “Remembering forestry workers”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    Simon Bridges needs more air-time. He’s such an asset to the National Party.

  2. Molly 2

    Such aspiration from Simon Bridges: “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.”

    Surely a party in coalition with ACT will have heard of the phrase zero tolerance?

    How hard is it to say “Our current priority will be to ensure that all policies and procedures are in place to continually work towards zero fatalities for NZ’ers at work.”?

    And 2020 as a target deadline – how decisive. Another statement that doesn’t require him to be effective now. And even then it is only a 25% reduction.

    Make you wonder what he thinks of the other 75% that he seems to be comfortable with losing…

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1

      They don’t donate to the National Party. Their employers’ employers do.

    • Rosie 2.2

      It’s a pathetic statement from Bridge’s Molly. Furthermore the Employment Relations Amendment Act will put workers at greater risk of harm. One of the changes is to do with removing the right to a rest break. It will be at the employer’s discretion if and when their workers can take a break.

      Workers who are already in higher risk jobs may experience fatigue and an increased stress which could lead to accidents.

      Andrew Little states how ineffective the new health and safety bill will be:

      “”Workplace regulation has a vital role to play in shaping culture and attitudes to health and safety, and ultimately the best health and safety performance comes down to workers having the knowledge and confidence to challenge unsafe practices, including by management.

      “Although the Government has put up a health and safety bill with improved worker participation, it will be totally meaningless alongside its employment law changes which are designed to shut down the voice of workers and give employers unilateral powers.”


      Sincere condolences to all those who have lost loved ones on the job – they should still be with you. Arohanui.

    • Kahukowhai 2.3

      Sure, if you want to live in a police state, you can have zero fatalities.

      Just shut down all the dangerous industries.

      • Richard McGrath 2.3.1

        You don’t need a police state to reduce forestry industry fatalities. Just remove the human element from the front line. Replace them with machines.

      • Nonsense. The entire London Olympic Park project was completed with no fatalies and less than a third of the building industry average number of accidents per hours worked. We can make work much safer, including dangerous work. It’s not rocket science.

      • Rosie 2.3.3

        What a ridiculous statement Kahukowhai. Are you even familiar with how and why workplace accidents occur in NZ? Are you aware of the H&S training going on within different industries to educate workers and employers on harm minimisation and how the funding for such education is being reduced by ACC?

        The implementation of Health and Safety regulations have got nothing to do with a police state. You may not have noticed that we are living in a Police state already, where no persons privacy is guaranteed as a result of the GCSB and TICS Act’s. Theres your police state, right there.

        And what an insensitive comment to make on day when people were publicly mourning the deaths of 51 workers. I suggest you have a look at the following link. Look at the faces of the people on the march who have lost loved ones and have a listen to the speeches. You may learn something about the reason people are calling for improvements in H&S in the workplace.


  3. Darien Fenton 3

    Thanks Karol. It was a heartbreaking service yesterday. Simon Bridges should have to sit and listen. About to meet the march today. My admiration for the courage of the forestry families is immense. Keep on fighting.

  4. Mjoy 4

    There was a recent article in the Listener which makes it clear how this situation has developed, it is very enlightening and definitely worth reading.

  5. I hope Rachel Jones ,Labour’s excellent candidate for Tauranga debates this with Bridges she may well make mince meat of him. Listening to him on morning report today I was shicked at his arrogant reply .

    • Rosie 5.1

      Hi Pinky. Bridges arrogance is indeed shocking. It would be excellent if he could be unseated from Tauranga but it is a deep blue seat and a conservative electorate, so maybe not likely?

      Never the less, I hope the Labour candidate and her team give him heaps and hold him to account during the campaign. Good luck to them – and to the Greens too. I’m sure the people of the B.O. P haven’t forgiven the way the Govt handled the Rena disaster.

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