23 Dec 2012 – 22:08
Forest Owners will run Government funded “safety breakfasts” in January this year for forest workers but have refused to allow these workers to receive information about their rights at work including the impact of poor working conditions on health and safety. The breakfasts paid for by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment at $20 per head will include a short presentation by Ministry inspectors on the new Forest Safety Regulations and then a briefing from employers.
“Unions sought to attend to tell workers about their rights at work, including to refuse dangerous work, to demand safe hours and roster arrangements and to elect worker health and safety representatives at their workplace. “ Helen Kelly, CTU President said.
“We also wanted to give them our view that poor conditions are causing forest accidents and they can seek advice from us about these matters. This request was turned down by the Forest Owners unanimously and the Ministry did not support it in any active way. As a compromise it was agreed that a union leaflet would be distributed by the Ministry with content agreed by the Forest Owners – last minute on Friday both the Ministry and Forest Owners changed their minds and the leaflet has been canned”.
“What you have here is the employers in the most dangerous workplaces in NZ determining the Regulator’s approach to health and safety in the industry. Basically what they say goes and this is unchallenged by the Government Department that is charged with keeping workers safe. The recently released regulations for the industry were written by the employers and fall well short of Australian and Canadian standards with key elements like employee participation, maximum hours and days off and working in harsh weather completely minimised or missing. And now the Ministry is funding these breakfasts with agendas run on the employers terms to deliberately deny these workers getting any voice at all”.
The Inquiry into Pike River found that worker participation and voice is a key element of workplace health and safety that must be improved and that it was one of the failings in the mine. It found the regulator weak and bullied by the Pike management and unwilling to take a stand.
Helen Kelly said “we are concerned that this is being repeated in the Forest Industry. There have been 13 deaths in 3 years in our forests and the regulator runs the risk of simply compliantly supporting a poor safety effort. While this occurs, accidents in the industry will continue. The New Zealand Forests are Certified as sustainable under international standards, which include obligations to support union representation. Unions will be writing to international forest certifications bodies raising the unsustainable nature of New Zealand Forestry”.