Three more workers lost their lives in forestry related deaths over the last 10 days and the government still sits on their hands and refuses an inquiry into health and safety in the industry.
In February this year the NZ Council of Trade Unions embarked on a high profile campaign and petition to launch an inquiry into the forestry sector and their woeful health and safety record. The campaign, What Killed Ken Callow, featured the family of a forestry worker who was killed two years ago. In the video they made for the campaign Ken’s parents describe the exhaustion and the pressure he was under in his job.
This campaign culminated in a petition being tabled in Parliament in May this year and referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee – where it has languished.
It is obvious that there is something seriously wrong in the forestry industry. In August, perhaps bowing to public pressure, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment did embark on a series of health and safety inspections of logging operations across the country.
After inspecting around half of the logging operations in New Zealand, Health and Safety inspectors issued 182 enforcement notices, and shut down 14 operations because of serious imminent danger.
While we support this move towards compliance more needs to be done to ensure the safety of forestry workers. Due to constant restructuring in the public service we do not have enough inspectors to keep up with the amount of work.
We need to be creating a safety culture in our forests – where workers feel they can speak up about unsafe practises – and refuse to work when operations get too dangerous – and feel supported by other workers to take this stance.
Despite recent legislation enacting some of the recommendations from the Pike River Royal Commission into the mine tragedy that resulted in the death of 29 men the government is still legislating to block unions – as worker representatives – from participating in developing safety policy.
And new health and safety legislation is being radically undermined by National’s Employment Relations Amendment bill, with its underlying aim of destroying union involvement in the workplace and reducing the ability for workers to bargain on their wages and working conditions collectively.
These law changes, combined with the government’s earlier legislation that gives employers the right to sack workers for no reason after 90 days on the job and high unemployment – especially in our smaller towns and rural areas, has created a climate of fear. The ERA changes also include the removal of the right to rest breaks or a meal break – a clear signal that workers should put up and shut up.
Unionised work places are safer work places. We need regulation that provides for both.