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Tens of thousands of workers health at risk for days

Tens of thousands of workers health at risk for days. Where was Worksafe?


Unite Union is demanding Worksafe New Zealand does it job and investigates if tens of thousands of workers had their health endangered at work last week. It is also asking it’s members to seek medical advice and lodge ACC claims if they were or are affected by smoke inhalation, which was a clear workplace hazard.

“The SkyCity International Convention Centre burned for days and, particularly on Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday, huge amounts of toxic smoke were released into the central city. This is by far the most densely populated area in New Zealand, with well over 100,000 people working there daily, yet many central city workplaces kept their employees working throughout or only closed after hours of exposure.”

Unite had organisers at SkyCity on Tuesday and throughout the CBD on Wednesday visiting sites. Some workplaces, particularly in the public sector, closed and remain closed for a week until they were sure it was safe for their workers. When private sector employers did eventually close, many re-opened before it was possible for the buildings and air conditioning systems to have been cleaned and checked.

“How can it be unsafe for public servants for a week but at the same time safe for casino, fast food, retail and hotel workers in the same or adjacent buildings?”

Despite claims by SkyCity that Worksafe “approved” their re-opening it’s clear that was untrue. A Worksafe staff member was asked to attend a briefing at SkyCity and no independent inspection, investigation, clearance or monitoring of any type was undertaken by them.

“That’s why we have been asking for written records and reports form SkyCity and but we are now told there were no written reports when they were deciding to re-open.”

“There was a highly visible, immediate threat to health and safety that lasted days in the most densely populated workplaces in the nation, potentially affecting over 100,000 workers. We want to know just what Worksafe actually did and what they are going to do, to protect workers health and safety. Putting out a statement saying ‘In this situation the fumes from the fire may be a risk to people’s health’ without any follow-up, monitoring or checks is just not good enough.”

“We have made numerous attempts over the last week to report our concerns and get them investigating, without any meaningful response. Despite promises to respond by close of business yesterday to our numerous requests for investigations we have still not heard back.”

Worksafe New Zealand needs to investigate both the failure of employers, including SkyCity, to get their workers out of harms way while the fire was burning and the multiple reports of workers with burning eyes, breathing difficulties, heavy coughing, dizziness, nausea and loss of consciousness/fainting upon returning to smoke affected workplaces.

Unite is holding a “Masked Ball” and rally at 7pm tonight (Friday 1st) in Federal St in solidarity with all workers whose health may have been put at risk in the past week. Workers who were forced to stay at work inhaling smoke for up to four hours on Tuesday and workers who were forced back to work at the end of the week and suffered ill effects will be available to speak at the rally.

Email sent to Auckland CBD Unite Union members

Last Tuesday at 1pm the SkyCity International Convention Centre caught fire. It burned for days and released huge amounts of toxic smoke into the city.

Some workplaces closed on Tuesday and remained closed until it was safe again, however many businesses continued to operate through the danger and exposed their workers to the toxic smoke.

If you or any of your workmates have experienced any of the following symptoms, or left work because you felt sick or stayed home sick, please see your doctor, get a medical certificate for anytime you took off and explain to your doctor that it was a work related injury for ACC purposes:
• burning eyes
• difficulty breathing
• heavy coughing
• dizziness
• nausea
• loss of consciousness/fainting

If you have become sick as a result of the smoke exposure or been pressured to work when it was clearly unsafe please let us know at support@unite.org.nz.

If you were required to use leave when your workplace was closed please let us know, making workers take leave in events like this is unlawful.

If you have taken sick leave as a result of the smoke please let us know, the smoke was a work related injury so should not come off your sick leave balance.

Every worker has the right under NZ law to refuse unsafe work - don't put yourself in danger, the union will support you if you refuse unsafe work.

ends

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