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Tariana Turia ACC Amendment Bill (no 2) Speech

Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill (no 2)

Tariana Turia, ACC Spokesperson for the Maori Party

Thursday 13 December 2007

Tena koe Mr Speaker, tena tatou.

It is always a good thing, to be able to come to this House and know that we are debating legislation which will make a difference in the quality of people’s lives.

The quality of life for Maori workers in relation to their experiences with Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation has not always been a topic that I can talk about with much joy.

We know only too well, that injury is the leading cause of death for Maori for the first three decades of life. Maori are over-represented in injury statistics across all age groups, and in employment and sports. Most of these injuries were preventable.

We know also Maori aged 25-64, particularly men, are more likely to be injured at work than non-Maori. This reflects the types of occupations in which Maori men are over-represented, such as in manual and trade occupations; manufacturing and construction.

Occupational segregation operates to maintain Maori in more high risk employment. High risk occupations (those with high rates of new workplace injury claims) are agriculture, manufacturing, construction and forestry (after hunting, fishing and mining).

And it is not just a matter of Maori having such dire experiences of injury statistics –it is also a matter of a fairly negative experience of having to go to ACC itself.

Research from Dr Peter Jansen on Māori consumer use and experience of health and disability and ACC services reveals that Māori are currently not receiving entitlements to care, rehabilitation, and compensation at a level comparable to the proportion of Māori in the population – and that is appalling.

The issues, Mr Speaker, are in essence that Māori have greater need but less access to treatment.

And I know this because many people who have come to my office, Maori people who have come to my office for help because the staff at ACC that they are malingerers and don’t have any rights to ACC.

It is obvious from these statistics and the stories of our people that Maori are over-represented in high risk industries and under-represented in claims and entitlements from ACC.

And so given this history, we have given priority to this Bill - to review the amendments proposed for work-related injuries, changes in weekly compensation eligibility and entitlement, and changes in entitlement and processes around vocational rehabilitation and independence.

We are particularly pleased that the Bill improves access to compensation for a number of currently disenfranchised groups – seasonal and casual workers, and those in non-standard work; those mentally injured by trauma; those between work; and young people who are injured.

The Maori Party has previously voted against Bills not inclusive of these groups rights and so it is obviously pleasing to see these groups included from the outset.

We are especially interested in the initiatives to provide cover for mental injury arising from traumatic events in the workplace.

Our reading of the Bill suggests that cover is extended to those suffering mental injury (as opposed to temporary distress) by exposure to a sudden traumatic event in the course of employment situations, for example, such as witnessing a death.

I know, myself, the enormous impact that traumatic events witnessed in the course of the working day can have.

I recall one personal situation when I was working with a government agency; and a member of the public held a staff member up against the wall, clutching his throat, in response to behaviour that the member of the public clearly took offence at. I can remember the trauma for that staff member was quite significant.

And I remember only too vividly a hui I attended in Ruatoki, in which one of the speakers attending that hui, died. And as I moved to give him CPR, realising it was too late, and the shock of that sudden death stayed with me for a long, long time.

Sometimes when we talk about people having temporary distress it is unfair not to note that that distress can stay for a very long time.

So when I read in this Bill, that cover will help ensure there is appropriate treatment to facilitate rehabilitation, I am absolutely convinced that such an experience as those I have mentioned is indeed encompassed within the scope of personal injury.

And I will be interested to learn at the select committee stage, whether any of the submitters bring to our attention, the possibility of racism being added as a work related gradual process of injury because that was identified in Dr Peter Jansen’s report as well.

Because clearly racism has long term effects as well as leading to post traumatic symptom disorder.

There are some very good features in this Bill.

We believe that theweekly compensation for seasonal and casual workers will be calculated more fairly as a result of amendments included in the Bill.

For a meat worker, for example, their compensation will be calculated more in line with their working rather than non-working periods, and I think that that is fair.

Instead of having three months work averaged out over 52 weeks, it will be averaged out over twelve weeks – which in effect means that the 80% compensation is 80% of their real income.

This change is intended to improve access for seasonal, casual workers and others in non-standard work, and is something that we would support.

Mr Speaker, we would like to see more focus on occupational safety and health included in this Bill.

A 2004 National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee report on occupational injury and disease in New Zealand highlights the lack of information on Maori work-related mortality and morbidity.

Despite the fact that awareness and monitoring of OSH issues for Maori is sorely lacking, we know that there are particular issues which flow from the facts of their employment.

Maori and Pacific workers are more likely to be shift workers, and as a consequence, more likely to be vulnerable to the range of work-related disorders associated with shift-work: sleep disturbance, peptic ulceration, ischaemic heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, female reproductive disorders, disorders of the immune system, as well as psychological and relationship disorders.

A recent publication from theBlood Donors’ Health Study reported that when occupation, lifestyle factors, and excessive sleepiness are controlled for, there is an almost two-fold increase in the risk of work-related injury for shift workers.

And the final issue I want to bring to the debate is the precarious nature of non full-time/permanent employment, where Maori are also highly represented.

Precarious employment is that which is low quality and puts workers at risk of injury, illness and/or poverty.

Precarious workers are more exposed to physical work hazards and stress from insecurity.

We will be looking carefully at the select committee report to see that the specific issues for shift workers, and workers in precarious employment, are fully canvassed in this Bill.

Mr Speaker, all workers have a right to expect that the workplaces they go to, the work they do, and the people they work with and for, are not compromising their health.

And they also have every right to benefit from the social contract represented in the accident compensation scheme.

We will be supporting this Bill, to enable full discussion to take place, and to allow all of us in this House to benefit from the robust discussion about the impact of injuries upon the community; and we will reserve our final decision until we are really informed by the submissions to the select committee.

ENDS

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