Denise Roche
Fight for the living and mourn for the dead: Workers Memorial Day

wmdayphotoSunday 28th April was Workers Memorial Day and in Auckland I attended the event that was organised by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions to remember the people in the last year that went to work and never came back.

This year’s event highlighted the appalling health and safety record of the forestry industry. While the workers in this industry are highly skilled and frequently well trained the pressure to work harder and faster has resulted in four deaths since the beginning of the year.  In the last four years there have been over 900 serious accidents and 26 deaths in our forests.

The loved ones of six of those workers spoke to the 150 or so people gathered in Auckland for the Memorial event.  They spoke about the pressures their loved ones were under before their deaths; they talked about the concerns these men had already raised about the terrain and weather they were working in; and they also talked about how the forestry industry had frequently tried to blame the victims themselves or attempted to minimise the seriousness of the health and safety risks these workers faced – and their colleagues face – every day.

Despite the tears – and there were many – these families were determined to tell the stories about how their loved ones had died in an effort to stop other needless deaths. Ken Callow’s family are also fronting a CTU-lead public campaign about forestry deaths which includes a petition and a call for an inquiry into the forestry sector.

Most foresters are contractors working long hours, frequently trying to meet unrealistic deadlines and quotas set by the forest owners.  But the forest owners are never ever held to account about the accidents that happen.

And to add insult to injury on Friday the government announced a host of changes to the employment relations law that will result in workers having even less say in their workplaces. Many of the proposed changes attack union rights and collective bargaining and many unions have expressed their concern about how wages and conditions will be eroded.

Unionised workforces have safer working conditions and better pay rates because workers are free to participate in dialogue with their employers about health and safety and negotiations around their wages and conditions. The National Government changes are simply a mechanism to further reduce union rights and it puts workers at risk.

The slogan for Workers Memorial Day is “Mourn for the Dead and Fight for the Living.” – The Greens are backing the call for an inquiry into the forestry sector. Now is the time to fight for the living.

4 thoughts on “Fight for the living and mourn for the dead: Workers Memorial Day

  1. I have worked in the forestry industry and I can s assure you the #1 reason for death by accident is the consumption of marijuana. Mandatory marijuana testing specifically will reduce death and serious injury accidents substantially if it is employed.

    It might be in some cases a death occurs by way of an employer taking shortcuts, and when mandatory marijuana testing is brought in you’ll see how many are in that category. Oh and the testing must be random also and carried out by independent laboratories.

    There’s not much point in having the latest equipment when the operator’s smashed out of his skull on marijuana.

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  2. If you have an inquiry into forestry then in a year or two you’ll be able to come up with a new code of practice and safety guidelines.

    Like the one the government has just released.

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  3. Why do unions have to be involved, shouldn’t rules and safety regulations cover ALL employees, not just those paying their weekly dues? This isn’t a union issue, it’s a hazardous workplace issue.

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  4. When I was involved in being trained to work in forestry that was pretty hopeless. The people in charge of training sat on their backsides and did nothing, and the people they had already “trained” did all the work. So whatever matters they had a poor understanding of was taught to the next trainee. Some of the people who went into the forests had very poor quality training. Concerned Unions can prevent that from happening, whereas an employer won’t give a shit, as long as people turn up on time, on site, with a bit of paper saying they’re ‘qualified’ that’s all that matters. The employer is covered financially by ACC.

    Eventually I refused to work in the forests in New Zealand, they are very dangerous places. The people who stand to lose the most are the people who get paid the least. I consider trawler fishing is a damn sight safer than any job in New Zealand forestry.

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