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Fight Against Workplace Deaths

Collective Bargaining Vital in Fight Against Workplace Deaths

Strengthening workers’ ability to bargain collectively will reduce workplace fatalities and improve this country’s dismal health and safety record, Council of Trade Unions president Ross Wilson said today.

Speaking to around 300 delegates at the first day of the CTU conference in Wellington, Ross Wilson said that for the second year in a row the Occupational Safety and Health Service had investigated 73 fatal workplace accidents.

He blamed the toll on the combined effect of the Employment Contracts Act, in limiting union access to workplaces, and the lack of mandatory worker participation in health and safety systems under the previous law.

“Workers were not involved enough in occupational safety and health, so were less aware of the issues,” he said. “Union representation was weakened and there was little bargaining around health and safety issues.”

Poor work practices such as competitive tendering, outsourcing of dangerous tasks, work overload and long working hours have added to the danger.

The new Health and Safety in Employment Act, which requires workplace health and safety representatives, and the Employment Relations Act will help to reduce workplace accidents, Ross Wilson said.

“Unions want the ERA amended so it does not merely allow collective bargaining, but actively promotes it,” Ross Wilson said.

Ross Wilson said the new laws presented the union movement with challenges.

“We must change the perception that health and safety is a specialist area which must be left to a few people who – it is said – have a sort of obsessive interest in it,” he said. “Workers care about their health and safety and their families certainly care about whether they come home at night. It concerns everyone.”

Unions also needed to make sure that health and safety was a key issue in bargaining with employers, Ross Wilson said.

“Thirdly, there is the challenge to make the fundamental link between unsafe systems of work which cause accidents and occupational diseases, and the potential for collective bargaining to improve those systems of work.

“Just as the laws and practices of the 1980s and 1990s allowed the deterioration of systems of work, so can the rights that we have under the ERA and the HSE Act assist us to rebuild safe systems and conditions of work,” Ross Wilson said.

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