This opinion piece from Phillip was published in the Hawkes Bay Times in July 2015 Opposition grows to health and safety reform “monster”, says employment relations specialist Phillip de Wattignar

Wednesday September 9th, 2015

The concerns of the Hawkes Bay farming community regarding health and safety regulation are widespread. They are not confined to Hawkes Bay and not just to the farming sector.
Government MPs have objected to the ill-fated Health and Safety Reform Bill and its report back has been delayed. The bill was introduced in May 2014 and claimed to be part of the response to the Pike River tragedy.
The delay in reporting back the bill is a case of National party MPs both doing their own job and also taking on the extra duty of the opposition in objecting. They are rightly finding fault with and opposing bad and unnecessary legislation. Theirs is a sensible response to a ridiculous proposition.

The reform bill is a monster. The NZCTU, the parliamentary opposition and public service advisors have all got it wrong.

The forgotten story is that Parliament has already acted promptly on the recommendations of the Pike River Royal Commission on the Pike River Mine Tragedy. The Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) legislation included the Worksafe New Zealand Act 2013.
This met the main concerns of the Royal Commission into the Pike River tragedy and the recommendations of the later taskforce. They had both identified the failure of the former regulator, the Department of Labour, to adequately resource Health and Safety inspectors to enforce health and safety standards. An independent Worksafe NZ is now in place and on the job to put safety workplace health and safety first. Mission accomplished.

The Prime Minister is correct to note this second Health and Safety Reform Bill is ill suited for the 95% of businesses which are small to medium sized. These businesses don’t have human resource managers and don’t run everything past employment lawyers. Almost all employ staff who are unrepresented and are employed under individual terms of employment.
Wise commentators are remarking on the significant influence and degree to which the direction of the bill has been captured. It appears to be championed by self-interested human resource and health and safety managers found inside larger private sector corporates and public sector organisations who have a vested interest in compliance roles (jobs).

Comparisons with Australia are the rhetoric of the day. Recommendations to follow the Australian model legislation were never valid nor going to be workable or effective. New Zealand has entirely different circumstances especially regarding incentives to comply.
With our comprehensive ACC system there is no significant risk of financial penalty for workplace accidents because workers do not have the right to sue.
New Zealand does not have the sort of industry coverage of union representation and union resources found in Australia to ensure widespread monitoring and compliance of complicated and prescriptive workplace health and safety regulations. Unionism in the private sector small and medium business sector in New Zealand is all but extinct.

The bill is the product of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the successor to the Department of Labour. “Yes Minister”, with Sir Humphrey wielding the power is back. The policy development and advice to the original Taskforce and to Government was and is of very poor quality. The large number of submissions to the parliamentary select committee reflect this. A significant number of submissions are more concerned with politics and power in the workplace issues raised by the bill than about health and safety in the workplace.

There is simply no reason why Worksafe NZ can’t be supported and resourced under existing legislation to do the job. Worksafe can educate and support businesses and staff to comply. A confidential help service is sufficient. There will never be enough Worksafe Inspectors so employers will have to be trusted to get it right. Managers already have the tools of performance management and disciplinary process to back up and enforce compliance with properly established health and safety policies.
Industry specific Codes of Practice and appropriate Government regulations can be produced in consultation with the business owners. These can be implemented through engagement with Worksafe NZ to complete decent health and safety reform in a more meaningful and genuine manner.

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