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Flavell: ACC Amendment Bill

Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill (No 2)
Te Ururoa Flavell, Member for Waiariki
Tuesday 17 June 2008; 8.30pm

Mr Speaker, at first impressions, the purpose of this Bill is pretty good.

The Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee introduces it by suggesting the amendments will maintain a fair and sustainable accident compensation scheme by reducing the incidence and impact of personal injury.

This is an excellent objective which I believe would find support right around this House.

And yet there was a comment made in the submissions presented to the Select Committee, by Phillippa Martin of the Support Network for the Aldehyde and Solvent Affected (NZ) Ltd which must be given serious consideration.

That comment was that, ACC has developed a culture of denial. I’ll say that again – a culture of denial.

Now that’s a fairly hardline comment to make.

A culture of denial is like an alcoholic who is determined to deny their drinking problem, or the perpetrator of domestic violence, set on making excuses for their aggression.

A culture of denial is what we may like to talk about when we fail to recognize that it is institutional racism which is restricting opportunities for persons of colour.

I mean, you could say that a culture of denial might well represent the catastrophe of climate change – you know, like a nation walking head first into an energy depleted future, ignoring the inevitable warning signs along the way.

So how could such a strong concept apply in the case of work related injuries and vocational rehabilitation?

Well, the recommendation from Phillippa Martin was that the ACC mindset must change from finding every means to stop paying out on valid claims to finding every means to affirm a claim of honesty.

Mr Speaker, in many respects, this sums up the Maori experience of injury prevention, rehabilitation and compensation.

Denial of entitlements. Denial of access to information. Denial of opportunities.

Mr Speaker, it’s all well and good that there are mechanisms in place which supposedly cover work-related injuries, compensation eligibility and the processes around vocational rehabilitation and independence.

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

Keeping people safe and healthy within their paid and voluntary work environment should be a right, not a privilege.

And yet for far too many tangata whenua, such protections are anything but automatic.

Mr Speaker, my experience of ACC is that it is the hoha of a Maori MP’s life – far too many people cross our paths with anecdotes of the frustrations they have experienced in trying to swim through the maze of processes which are often long and drawn out.

For many of our constituents, life appears to be about barriers and obstacles emerging with disturbing regularity.

Last November, Mr Speaker, Dr Fiona Cram released her work on Occupational Safety and Health which revealed what our constituents tell us – that awareness and monitoring of OSH issues for Maori is sorely lacking.

So why should this be?

What we all know is that the patterns of occupational segregation tend to maintain Maori in more high risk employment.

Now the jobs that hit the all time high risk stakes, are agriculture, manufacturing, construction and forestry – all areas in which Maori are over-represented.

Then there’s the shift worker industry – where again Maori and Pasifika workers exist in high numbers.

Shift work, for those who have done it, to be blunt, is the pits.

Stay late at this place and you’ll get to hear the real stories of workplace risk from the Maori and Pasifika all-star cast that clean these buildings, keep these buildings secure, lock up after us, turn the lights down, and then get ready, all over again, for the day ahead.

Actually, their voices should have been invited to this debate – to tell us another reality – the reality of broken sleep, obesity, hypertension, ulcers, heart disease, diabetes and other disorders that simply come with the trade.

And all of this for minimum rates of pay.

In fact, the 2004 National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee has detailed the full range of work-related disorders associated with shift work such as these factors, including psychological and relationship disorders.

Less time with family, friends, eating habits are broken. You are unable to commit to any other interests, to being there at the school concert, for childcare even.

Their body clock is stuffed.

I’m thinking about the nurses, prison officers, night duty reporters, fire officers, police, accident and emergency workers.

The ironic thing is that many of these professions are in our essential industries – area where we expect our workers to have their full wits about them.

Then there’s workers in the hospitality industry, people looking after heavy duty machinery, stocking supermarket shelves, road markers, or those deep sea fishing crews trawling through the oceans for months at a time.

Mr Speaker, I have taken a bit of time to look at these issues around the culture of denial, because we believe, that no matter what changes are made to the compensation framework, if the vital issues of access, participation and outcomes for Maori aren’t taken into particular account, then progress will inevitably be limited.

We in the Maori Party support the changes that are being made regarding work-related mental injury and support the intention for the cover to help ensure appropriate treatment and facilitate rehabilitation.

The Maori Party is pleased to endorse any developments which seek to improve access to compensation for some disenfranchised groups such as seasonal/casual workers, those in non-standard work; those mentally injured by trauma; those between work; and young people who are injured.

But the single crucial issue for us is if people are taxed and levied for ACC cover and then denied their entitlements; then we can hardly call this a fair and sustainable accident compensation scheme.

It would seem that there are still technical issues within the Bill that serve to deny entitlements to those who really need it most.

As an example, we were interested in the submission from the Human Rights Commission which drew attention to the test of proving whether a mental injury is “reasonably expected” - a test which is not applied to physical injury. The Commission saw this as unjustifiably discriminatory – in effect, establishing an extra hurdle for people suffering mental injury.

Mr Speaker, we support the intent of the Bill in making the assessment easier to understand, allowing earlier access to minimum weekly compensation, and increasing the rate of compensation.

These are all positive steps in the right direction.

But again it comes down, to the spirit and intent of the five founding Woodhouse Principles – which would suggest further improvements are needed to the Act to give full effect to the spirit of the legislation.

The bottom line is, that we know that Maori tend to present late across all conditions and outcomes of workplace injury. Workplace awareness that they have a right to talk about their injuries is vital.

So too, is having access to a case manager at ACC who will work through the scenarios - what will I have to do? Am I entitled to a cleaner? Can I be transferred on to lighter duties for the same pay? Can work point me in the direction of physio?

Far too many Maori, stuck in low paid work, don’t want to admit they have had an injury, that they are suffering from OOS or backache, or even the impact of trauma – because they fear that such honesty will lead to dismissal.

We in this Parliament, must confront the culture of denial head on, and realise that hazardous work conditions jeopardize worker’s health and safety.

We must confront the reality that in 2003, Maori workers had the highest workplace injury claim rate; and that most of these injuries are preventable. And why should we do this?

Well, I will leave the last word to Dr John Broughton, who wrote the first comprehensive review of Maori injury. This comment, is part of the context which makes us know why we must support this Bill, and he said:

“Although the frond will eventually die, it need not wither or die so soon or before its time”.

Kia ora tatou.


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