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Forestry industry review under union scrutiny

Unions are accusing the New Zealand Minister of Labour of taking the teeth out of a promised review of New Zealand’s most deadly industry, forestry. Sources: Radio New Zealand, ONE News

According to ONE News, minister Simon Bridges is seeking clarification of the law designed to protect forestry workers rather than introduce any major changes.

A march to Parliament was held on International Workers’ Memorial Day today to remember the 51 people killed on the job in all industries over the last year.

Mr Bridges introduced a code of practice for safety and health in forestry in December 2012. After just a year in place, he found half of all operators were not complying, and promised a review.

“Instead of looking at fatigue and weather and all the things that these families have been raising about hours of work, about driving time, all of that stuff, he’s limited it right down to a clarification,” said Helen Kelly, Council of Trade Unions president.

The minister is seeking a clarification of who would take the rap if something went wrong.

“I appreciate that there will be many other areas that people think should and could be looked at and included,” said Mr Bridges.

Deborah McMillan, whose husband Shane Frater died on 1 May 2009, said the industry puts profits before people and needs to be regulated.

She said her husband loved his job, but in the end was killed by an industry that puts profits before people.

“This industry needs to be regulated. We need the Government to step up and help make this happen. These are our men. They deserve better.”

In October of 2011, Kenny Callow was killed when a tree fell, crushing him. His sister, Amie Coker said she doesn’t think the industry or the government really understands the impact deaths have on the families involved.

“My brother Ken, has been gone from out lives for two and half years now. To put it into perspective that is three Christmases, the birth of two nieces, six of his sons’ birthday celebrations.”

Mrs Coker said there is a clear problem within the industry.

“What makes me most angry looking back, is all these accidents were accepted as the norm,” she said.

”It horrifies me that in any industry, men or women can be too scared to speak up about their own safety, for fear of repurcussions or the knowledge that nothing would change anyway, so why would you bother”.

Mrs Coker believes that is a major factor behind the foresty industry’s appalling safety record. Lesley Kidd’s son, Lincoln, was 20 when he died in a tree felling incident near Levin last December.

Mrs Kidd said the tragedy is that her family’s story is too common, and all the men, the brothers, the sons, and the fathers were failed by an industry that they loved.

She said the Government needed to sit up and take notice and take responsibilty.

“They need to put the safety back into workplaces. It’s not regulating itself, so someone has to do it,” she said.

CTU president Helen Kelly said there was no real pressure for change unless these families spoke out. She said the deaths were all avoidable and the Government needed to take note and regulate the industry.

The Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the forestry industry is not safe enough but it will be months before new regulations to better protect workers come into force.

Mr Bridges said the health and safety reform bill would come into force in April next year and a code of conduct for forestry safety is under urgent review.