Forestry widows and children want answers

Last updated 05:00 30/09/2013

An inquiry asking why forestry workers are being killed and maimed in the billion-dollar industry will not consider the pain of a broken family living on an ordinary street in Tokoroa.

Charles Finlay lived in the Arawa Cres house with his wife Maryanne and school-age twins Shelby and Sharneica.

Their ordinary family life ended on July 19.

It was just before 5am at an ice-cold and pitch-black forest block off Tram Rd when a 55kg splint of wood, for some reason, shot through the air and struck Mr Finlay in the back of the head – the 45-year-old bush veteran died where he fell.

Mr Finlay, a father of three, is now a number on a grim list – the sixth forestry fatality of 2013, the 28th since 2008. His wife, the latest forestry widow.

Most of him is still at Arawa Cres, resting in an urn above the stereo in the lounge. Butler-Finlay says the 9-year-old twins have struggled to deal with their dad’s death and it’s good to have his warm grin and ashes looking down on them. They took time off school to recover, and are undergoing grief counselling.

“The twins talk to their father every day,” she said.

The rest of Finlay’s ashes lie next to his father at Tokoroa cemetery.

The exact circumstances of his death are still unclear and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment investigation is ongoing.

But there’s another wide-ranging inquiry in the wings, trying to find out why the NZ industry has such a grisly recent history of death and injury.

The draft terms of reference for the independent review of health and safety practices have now been sent to stakeholders, including the NZ Council of Trade Unions, forestry owners, forest managers, contractors and workers.

Hancock Forest Management general manager Bill McCullum said they planned to incorporate feedback into the draft until all parties are satisfied. All going to plan, the review will start this year.

Mr McCullum expected it would take up to four months and it should be finished in the first quarter of 2014.

“We want to identify means over and above what we’re currently undertaking to improve workplace safety,” he said.

Any improvements came too late for the Finlay family and they’re struggling on each day.

Maryanne Butler-Finlay knows she’s not as boisterous, active and outgoing as she was.

“I hurt too much, I think. I struggle. I haven’t really come to terms with it properly,” she said.

“I can’t handle that he’s not here. I hate the fact he’s not here. It just hurts. People say time heals and that, but for me, every day is worse. I don’t sleep well. I walk the floor most of the time. I just can’t settle and I’m sure it’s him keeping me up saying you need to make some changes, you can’t let this go on.”

Finlay’s final job was loader operator and, with nearly 30 years’ experience, he was on an hourly rate of $16.

He worked for M & A Cross logging which was contracted to Hancock Forest Management – Mr McCullum’s people. The company, based in Boston, USA, runs forest portfolios for public and corporate pension plans, high net-worth individuals, foundations and endowments.

As of March 2013, global assets under their management totalled $11.5 billion.

Mrs Butler-Finlay said her husband was always gone at 3.30am and would return as late as 7pm some days. Before Shelby started playing soccer, he regularly worked six days a week.

He aged rapidly in the past five years due to the toil – back problems, leg issues. He was turning into an old man, she said.

“The demands [the forest management company] put on the contractor who then puts it onto the worker is unrealistic.

“Rates, conditions – they don’t care about their workers.

“If they cared they would treat them better and look after them, and they don’t.”

Mr McCullum confirmed the forestry business model would be “specifically addressed” in the review.

After reading Mr Hancock’s report on her husband’s accident, Mrs Butler-Finlay feared they’d try to lay responsibility for it on Mr Finlay.

Mr McCullum said: “I don’t think there’s any blame to be attributed to anyone in this instance. I think this was a tragic accident.”


Share your story

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s