The Nation – #metoo and workplace sexual harassment

Workplace sexual harassment is a big issue. The Nation is looking at this this morning, in particular on the law profession.

88% of respondents to a survey by the Criminal Bar Association reported experiencing or witnessing harassment or bullying in the legal profession.

65% of respondents to a anonymous Criminal Bar Association survey said Judges were perpetrating harassment and bullying in the workplace

It is likely to be difficult to stand up against that, given the prominence of males in positions of power.

Former Lawyer Olivia Wensley live in studio discussing workplace harassment – “The legal profession is small in New Zealand. There are grave implications professionally for speaking out”.

“I was never asked if I experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. We called it “discourtesy”. We need to call a spade a spade – It’s sexual harassment.

“You can be out the door within seconds if you dare speak up” about workplace harassment and bullying.

There is significant under reporting.

NZ Law Society President Kathryn Beck on sexual harassment in the workplace – “We have acknowledged we have a problem of under reporting in this area.

“We have to change our culture”

It is an embedded culture problem. Very difficult to change.

Wensley says ‘hit them in the pocket”. Education is not going to do much.

Now Jan Logie is being interviewed.

Under-Secretary for Justice Jan Logie on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace – “This is being taken seriously right across Government”

“Deeply worried” about survey stating judges have been perpetrating workplace harassment and bullying

It’s tricky when judges are a major part of the problem, and are employed by the Government, but there needs to be clear separation of power.

Labour’s workplace policy

Labour announced their workplace relations policy today.A modest increase in the minimum wage and the retention of trial periods (with some modifications) are included.

Key points:

• Increasing the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour.

This is currently 15.75 so it isn’t a big increase.

• Replacing the current National Government’s ‘fire at will’ law with fair trial periods that provide both protection against unjustified dismissal and a simple, fair, and fast referee service.

• Introducing Fair Pay Agreements that set fair, basic employment conditions across an industry based on the employment standards that apply in that industry.

• Promoting the Living Wage by paying it to all workers in the core public service, and extending it to contractors over time.

• Doubling the number of Labour Inspectors.

Backing fair pay and conditions:

Working for fair pay

Labour will boost the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour and base future increases on the real cost of living for people on low incomes. Over time, we will work towards lifting the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage as economic conditions allow.

Labour is committed to being a good employer in government. All core public sector employees will be paid at least the Living Wage, at a cost of $15m, and this will be extended to contractors over time. Labour will also double the number of Labour Inspectors to 110 to help ensure working people’s rights are protected. This will cost $9m.


Fair trial periods

Labour has always supported trial periods for new employees, as a way of giving a person a chance. National’s ‘fire at will’ law is unfair because it denies employees any recourse against unfair treatment and unjustified dismissal. This means an employer can sack an employee without a fair reason, denying that person and their family a livelihood. Treasury has found ‘fire at will’ has created no jobs and not increased hiring of disadvantaged jobseekers. Instead, it has allowed some bad employers to exploit employees.

Labour will replace the existing law with trial periods that include recourse for employees in the event of unjustified dismissal. Employers, particularly small businesses, have legitimate concerns that resolving employment disputes can be time-consuming and expensive. So Labour will establish a new referee service for claims of unjustified dismissal during trial periods. The referee will hold short hearings without lawyers and be able to make decisions to reinstate or award damages of up to a capped amount. This simple, fast, and fair service will be provided free for the parties involved, at a cost to the Government of $4m.


Fair Pay Agreements

Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) will be agreed by businesses within an industry and the unions representing workers within that industry. FPAs will set basic standards for pay and other employment conditions within an industry, according to factors including job type and experience. The recent care and support workers’ settlement is an example of how employers, employees, and government can come together to create an agreement that sets base conditions across an industry.

By setting a floor, FPAs will prevent the ‘race to the bottom’ seen in some industries, where good employers are undercut by some bad employers who reduce labour costs through low wages and poor conditions. FPAs will create a framework for fair wage increases where good employers are not commercially disadvantaged for doing the right thing.

FPAs will cover all employees and workplaces within the relevant industry. Negotiations on FPAs will begin once a sufficient percentage of employers or employees within an industry call for one. This threshold and the precise implementation of FPAs will be developed in government in consultation with all stakeholders.

See the manifesto chapter for a full list of initiatives.

Workplace bullying

From patupaiarehe:


I posted this link last week Alan, and I’m going to do it again. It seems relevant, IMHO, seeing as how ‘confidential settlements’ are being discussed…

The people at the heart of this story are silenced. They have been paid off to keep quiet.

It is all part of the emerging New Zealand silent class. These people have won cases against employers, but as part of their settlement, they are gagged.

There is an emerging culture of paid off silence across the country. Journalists can’t detail the stories as few will risk whatever outcome they have worked to achieve, by going public with their own story.

For most, the settlement will be the only positive to emerge from the damage inflicted at their place of work.

They are required to shut up because the truth is damaging. They are shut down because employers do not want the public knowing the truth. Councils, universities, hospitals and others want to protect their image and will manipulate settlements in a bid to mask the true level of workplace turnover.

Today these silent New Zealanders walk our streets with knowledge and experience that can not, and will not be shared. Yet, the very experience they have if shared publicly, may offer solutions to the workplace violence which has been described as nearing epidemic proportions.

Psychopathic workplace intimidation, (I refuse to use the word ‘bullying’ as I feel it belittles the violent reality of what happens at work), is real. The damage is long lasting and for some staff it is the workplace equivalent of post traumatic stress disorder.

You don’t need a mortar shell to go off to bring you close to break down. A dedicated workplace psychopath can do it all, just more slowly and deliberately.

Many reading this column will know of the creep of fear that occurs at weekends when they have to face the Monday morning dread, still days away.

PWI is widespread across New Zealand working life.  It is planned, malicious, vicious and designed to belittle and disempower.  It is always a power game and one that is often disguised in language and conduct designed to mirror the appearance of successful management culture.

We welcome the popularity of intimidatory violent conduct into our homes and lives when Gordon Ramsey the chef who abuses staff for ratings is on TV. Other reality TV programmes from Survivor to My Kitchen Rules to The Bachelor include public put downs, conniving closed-door conduct, exclusion tactics, backstabbing and humiliation as a routine part of entertainment.

Popular culture has made its way to the workplace where identical tactics of humiliation and intimidation are seen as the new wave of management.

Alongside the emergence of workplace bullying has been the growth of a side industry; a lucrative business of independent consultants helping people making claims of work place intimidation and violence. These consultants are the New Zealand equivalent of ambulance chasing lawyers.

And that is not to say they don’t have a job to do. They do, but when money changes hands from employer to independent employment consultant, the relationship is business and it immediately stops being independent. Those who pay – say.

And those consulting companies that want future work advising employers on their work-place intimidation practises are unlikely to get future work if they are constantly found to be siding with employees taking employers to task.

The Labour Department needs to treat the issue seriously and become the arbiter of workplace issues where intimation and violence is used against staff. It is a workplace hazard and it needs the same independent governance and oversight as any other issue. The conflict of interest between paid employment consultant and employers must be removed.

That is edited a bit, the whole article is at Sunlive:  Opening up about workplace bullying

Most annoying people at work

As many workplaces wind down for the year Colmar Brunton has published a poll on the top 10 most annoying types of people at work.

ColmarTop10AtWork

Time to escape the most annoying people at work

When offices close for the festive season this year, Kiwi workers will be looking forward to a break from dominators, untidy people, megaphones, lingerers and intruders.

They are the most annoying types of people at work according to a newly released survey from Colmar Brunton.

Dominators – those people who talk over others – were rated as the most annoying workmates this year with 36% of those surveyed including them in their top three. Women (42%) and those in the 30-49 year age group (46%) most disliked being talked over.

Colmar Brunton Account Manager Jessica Balbas says the types of people identified in the survey reflect a number or traits common to offices and other workplaces throughout the country.

“Every workplace has these types of people, but what the survey shows is that while we are quick to recognise faults and annoying habits among our workmates, we may be lacking a little bit of self awareness or honesty about our own behaviours.”

The 1000 Kiwis surveyed were asked what the most annoying types of people at work are and which of the types best describes themselves.

In the most annoying stakes, people who leave their desk or common areas untidy (26%), megaphones (loud talkers who have exaggerated conversations), people who hang around and talk even though you have work to do and intruders (people who butt into conversations) rounded out the five most annoying types.

Others to get up the noses of their fellow workers include the black hole (someone who doesn’t respond to emails), the photocopier bandit (someone who leaves the photocopier jammed and the wanderer (someone who wanders around aimlessly).

The Dominator (someone who talks over others) 36%
The Untidy One (someone who leaves their desk or common areas untidy) 26%
The Megaphone (a loud talker who has exaggerated conversations) 25%
The Lingerer (someone who lingers to talk, even though you have work to do) 25%
The Intruder (someone who butts in to conversations) 23%
The Sniffer (a person who constantly sniffs) 21%
The Borrower (someone who borrows stuff without asking) 20%
The Black Hole (someone who doesn’t respond to emails) 18%
The Noisy Eater (a person who chews loudly while eating at his or her desk) 16%
The Wanderer (someone who wanders around aimlessly) 14%

And how people describe themselves at work:

ColmarTop5TypesAtWork

But when it came to looking in the mirror, the greatest number described themselves as pen clickers (20%). A total of 14% identified themselves as backseat workers (someone who answers questions intended for someone else), 12% said they are untidy (slightly more men than women) or lingerers, while 10% fessed up to being intruders.

However just 5% admitted to fitting the dominator persona, 4% described themselves as megaphones and a mere 3% said they leave the photocopier jammed.

“Everybody will be able to relate to these types of people in the workplace but the test is whether they take an honest look at themselves. Then, whether they can change their own behavior when they return to work in the New Year for the good of their fellow workers,” Ms Balbas says.

Little has a sense of humour

In Question Time in Parliament today Andrew Little asked several questions on the Health and Safety Bill, starting with:

Does he have confidence in the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, given his decision not to include sheep, beef, and dairy farming in his Proposed Schedule of High Risk Industries?

There were predictable digs about lavendar growing and butterfly farming.

Does the Prime Minister agree that ridiculous situation where working with lavendar and butterflies is high risk, but working with bulls and explosives is not, has undermined public confidence in his Health and Safety reforms, and if not why not.

But he was working up to a good one.

If he thinks butterfly breeding is high risk but dairy farming isn’t, can he tell us the last time a rampaging butterfly had to be shot by police in the streets of Whanganui?

There was much laughter from the left and even some smiles on the right.

He has a wee way to go but maybe there’s some hope for Little.

Little better on Q & A (Workplace Safety)

Labour leader Andrew Little was interviewed on Q & A yesterday. It focussed on a topic he knows well due to his twenty year union background, and he did a much better job than i his heavily criticised effort on The Nation the previous day (see The Nation: Little and Labour repeating failed strategies).

In particular when host Greg Boyed tried to bring up worm farming…

Try to explain to me, as somebody who’s not in Parliament, how on earth—You know, the media’s got plenty of comedy value out of this with the worm farming and that – how is something like that even allowed to slip through? Surely someone must have seen that in the early stages – ‘Right, we’ll push that aside. We don’t want that mentioned in the same time.’ How did that happen?

…Little dismissed the meduia beatup and turned to a positive approach to improving the Bill instead.

I don’t want to get heavily into that. Something would have happened between the officials and the minister, and Michael Woodhouse has worn enough over the last few days. I would rather work with Michael and whoever else in his government and his support parties…

That looks like a significant and welcome change of approach from Little.

Video: Workplace Safety – Labour (10:24)

This followed an interview with Michael Woodhouse on the same topic – see Woodhouse on the Workplace Health and Safety Bill.

Transcript of the Andrew Little interview:

GREG Welcome back to Q + A. Well, we heard Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse before the break. Let’s bring in Labour Leader Andrew Little. You heard what he had to say – that the overall feeling he wanted to put forth is this is not set in granite – there’s a lot of room for this to change. What are your thoughts and what do you have to say?

ANDREW The truth is, we have one chance to pass the law and to get it right. And that’s going to happen sometime this week. And what’s important for public confidence in the law is that we get it right now. So I don’t accept his view that we can now go through the law change process, have it ridiculed, if only for some parts of it, and then somehow through the consultation process that will follow, that will restore public confidence, because it won’t.

So what the minister needs to do now – and the support parties who are part of propping up this Government – is we actually need to take the next couple of days to see if we can thrash out what a good law is going to look like so we can very quickly restore public confidence in it.

GREG Okay, without burying people in legislation, red tape and a lot of cost, how can it be changed from here so it’s actually going to mean less people are killed in the workplace?

ANDREW Well, what we can’t have, for the sake of public confidence, is this process now where the minister can designate industries ‘high hazard’ or ‘low risk’. Because what we’ve seen with that in the last few days is that’s a very arbitrary line to draw.

And you get the silly absurdities where worm farming, which according to the minister, has caused deaths, is regarded as more high risk than the industry that has killed over 100 people in the last three years, and that’s farming, whether it’s dairy, beef or whatever.

GREG The thing I’m finding frustrating, and I think most people are, is you go, ‘Okay, on one hand, farming is dangerous – a lot of people die. But they’re not going to be under this. They’re not going to feel the weight of this. They’re not going to get any safer. What am I missing? Why is that happening?

ANDREW I think the myth is that the average farm now is kind of Mum, Dad and the kids and the odd bit of farm labour that comes on. That’s actually not the average farm anymore.

The average farm is a properly-run business and there’s labour coming and going all the time. And so they are not the three or four operation. They can be a dozen, they can be up to 20. They might fall under that threshold that the Government’s put in place to try and exclude them, but they still need a culture and an environment in the workplace where the health and safety issues can be talked about.

And I’ve spoken to farm labourers who tell me that if only they knew when they were going to work on the farm that there was a colleague, you know, somebody at their equal – not the farm owner, but a colleague – who could induct them in about the health and safety and what the expectations were, that would make the difference, and that’s what we need. And the legislation needs to reflect that.

GREG Having said that, there are still operations that are Mum, Dad and the kids or two or three people. To have a health and safety officer foisted upon them is absurd, and the cost of it and the legislation of it – that would be absurd, wouldn’t it?

ANDREW So if the legislation is drafted so that was optional – if there were any employed workers there, paid workers there or contractors who say, ‘Yeah, I just want to have somebody who I can go to,’ yeah, let’s do it. The reality is in the small, more intimate businesses, that won’t happen, in the same way that hasn’t happened under previous legislation.

But there will be places, and I think of workplaces of the 10 to 20 level, where, actually, that is real, where you get a group of people – they are working there. Even at that level, people want to know that there is a system that they can contribute to, where their voice is heard and that they can raise issues with impunity, and that’s important too.

In the end, good health and safety comes down to good workplace culture, and even quite small workplaces still need a good workplace culture. The legislation, and certainly now the debate we’re having over it because of the mishandling of the categorisation, is undermining confidence in this new legislation, which is the last thing we need given what’s happened that’s led us to have this legislation in the first place.

GREG Labour was on board with this until July. When, where and why did it go wrong as far as you were concerned?

ANDREW When that legislation first came in, we were pretty happy with it. We thought there were some changes at the margins but it covered everybody. And there was enough in there that for the very small businesses, of course it wouldn’t be onerous for them; they’ll carry on sorting out the way they operated.

Then the Government was determined to get exemptions, and that’s actually what’s driven all of the consensus flying apart.They were desperate to exclude small businesses, and in reality they were desperate to exclude farmers because we know that the farming lobby was very powerful in saying, ‘We don’t want to be constrained by this.’

So they excluded small businesses, then they realised they still had to include high-risk businesses – well, farming and agriculture still is high-risk, so then they had to find a way to exclude that. And it’s kind of exception upon exception upon exemption that’s led to the distortions that’s led to the absurdities that we’re now debating and is now undermining confidence.

GREG I want to talk about the families of Pike River, who we saw at Parliament this week, understandably frustrated with the delay, and at the end of it, frustrated with the outcome. That said, and with the absolute greatest of respect to the families there, apart from something like corporate manslaughter being installed, is any of this ever going to be satisfactory to them? And I think most people would understand the answer would be no.

ANDREW It’s not just the Pike River families. We had families from the forestry industry there whose family members had been killed in the forestry industry, and we had a couple of others there as well, even representatives from the timber industry and timber processes from 20 years ago, where poisoning actually ended up killing people.

So it was a cross section, and I think they are people who, because they have experienced the grief of the loss of somebody who has gone to work and not come home, they are a champion for saying we’ve got to get workplace health and safety right.

This is our chance after the tragedy of Pike River, to get it right, and I would just say to the minister, if you’re serious about getting a law that he can be proud of – and he should do, because I don’t think he’s the one at fault here – let’s take the next couple of days with him, and I’m more than happy to meet with him and use the benefit of my 20 years’ experience in this area doing health and safety in the workplace, representing families at coroners’ inquests, to get this law right so that we can get it through Parliament.

I don’t think it’s going to be good for this minister and his government for us to have another day, two days, three days, who knows how long this will take to debate through Parliament, and continue what is undermining confidence in what should be a good piece of legislation.

GREG The aims they’ve got – 25% less deaths in five years, by 2021 – is that enough? That seems not terribly ambitious to me.

ANDREW If you get the culture right—It’s interesting the minister talked about the forestry industry. What happened in the forestry industry is that they finally had a wake-up call and they finally found some leaders within that industry that said, ‘This can’t go on,’ and they worked with worker representatives, the CTU and others, they did an inquiry, they got some good recommendations, and the forestry companies and even down at the contractor level committed to improving workplace health and safety in that industry.

And that’s making the difference. But they had the impetus to do it. Well, we need a piece of legislation – this law, the Health and Safety Reform Bill – that is the impetus to every employer and every worker, saying, ‘Yep, we get it now. We’ve got the message. We’re all committed to lifting our performance and we’ll make the difference.’

GREG Are fines the way to go? Are penalties for people who don’t play it safe and do things right – is that something we should be looking at increasing?

ANDREW You want WorkSafe New Zealand, as the, kind of, police officer of all of this, to have some discretion about how they approach it. And what happens with a small business isn’t going to be identical with what happens with a large corporate in a high-risk industry. So you want some scope for discretion about warnings and education, but you do need a backstop, which is the more punitive measures that you take.

But, you know, I trust WorkSafe New Zealand to get it right, when it’s about working with businesses as well as the workforce, to lift our health and safety performance.

GREG So you sit down with the minister, which is unlikely, but you said you would. If you sat down with him, in a pithy sentence or two, what would you say needs to change between now and a few days to actually make this effective so people are going to stop dying on the job?

ANDREW Let’s make sure that the way the law is drafted gives the same message to everybody, and let’s trust people to get it right when it comes to implementation and trust WorkSafe to get it right when it comes to enforcing the rules.

GREG To an extent, are we being naïve to think we can do much more to the death toll than we’ve already done? You’ve got people, you’ve got heavy machinery, you’ve got dangerous situations in farms, you’ve got hills, you’ve got equipment that fails. You can’t legislate that risk away completely, can you?

ANDREW The question is why our farming sector has a bigger fatality record and more serious accidents than the agricultural industries in other countries. And bearing in mind too that in our agriculture industry, we have underreporting of incidents. And WorkSafe New Zealand did a survey and found that roughly a quarter of serious-harm accidents that actually happen are being reported.

There’s a whole heap not being reported, so the picture is probably worse than is being made out. We can do better. In the OECD, we rank fifth from the bottom in terms of workplace health and safety performance.

We can do better, we have to do better, we must do better. People are entitled to know when they go to work, they’ve got best chance than ever of returning home safe again at the end of it. That’s what it comes to.

GREG Try to explain to me, as somebody who’s not in Parliament, how on earth—You know, the media’s got plenty of comedy value out of this with the worm farming and that – how is something like that even allowed to slip through? Surely someone must have seen that in the early stages – ‘Right, we’ll push that aside. We don’t want that mentioned in the same time.’ How did that happen?

ANDREW I don’t want to get heavily into that. Something would have happened between the officials and the minister, and Michael Woodhouse has worn enough over the last few days. I would rather work with Michael and whoever else in his government and his support parties, left a message with Peter Dunne’s office on Friday.

We’ve had some back-channel talks with the Maori Party. I would rather be working with the Government and their support parties to get this right.

We arrive at Parliament on Tuesday, and we get something that we can all get behind and we can say to New Zealand, ‘Whatever happened, we’ve got this right now. We are all confident and pleased with it, and this will make a difference to New Zealand.’

Woodhouse on the Workplace Health and Safety Bill

Michael Woodhouse was interviewed on the Workplace Health and Safety Bill by Michael Parkin on Q & A. He explained the current situation with the Bill.

Parkin brought up “worm farms, lavender farms, catteries, curtain hanging, that sort of thing” amd asked “Do you take full responsibility for those items being in there?”

Well, they’re not in there. That’s the point, Michael. We haven’t started the process. So they are part of a group of industry classifications where there is high risk. So, laugh if you like, but the category that has worm farming in it killed 11 people and injured more than 1000 in the five years that we analysed the data.

.Transcript of Workplace Health and Safety segment:

PARKIN All right, let’s get you to put your health and safety hat on here, because I want to quote you from February, where you said, ‘The death and injury rate behind the farm gate is simply unacceptable. Someone is killed nearly every fortnight. This needs to change.’ Your words, remember. How could you leave farmers out of these reforms?

WOODHOUSE I was speaking at the launch of the Safer Farms safety programme. That’s a five year body of work where Worksafe has teamed up with Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ and Sheep and Beef. And this is a very comprehensive programme to improve health and safety on our farms.

PARKIN But by telling farmers now that they are low-risk, that they don’t need to be part of this reform that you have introduced, isn’t that just instilling complacency in them?

WOODHOUSE I think we need to just recalibrate what’s been said over the last week, because people are describing worm farms and dairy farms as if we’ve come to the end of a process. We haven’t even started that process. Now, what I did last week was agree to disclose the taxonomy that would be used to describe the upper quartile of high risk and the criteria that we would apply to work out who would fall into that category for the small businesses that may be able to say no to a health and safety rep when asked.

PARKIN But why leave them out? Why not give them the option? Why not give those farmers – whether two, three, five, 10, whatever – why not give the guys on the ground the option if they wanted a health and safety rep to say, ‘Yeah, I’d actually like one of those,’ and the legislation being in place for them to allow that.

WOODHOUSE And the legislation will be but the current requirement is for that now. And the majority of our farms don’t have them. Now, I think what we need to do is compare what the current legislation says, because the whole section on worker participation in the Health and Safety Employment Act, our present act, talks about the election and powers of a health and safety rep. The new bill has comprehensive extra requirements on everyone in our workplace to participate in health and safety, whether you’re a worker, a manager, an owner or a director. And I think through all of this what’s been lost is the significant reform that we’re putting in place through this bill. Now, yes, health and safety representatives are important, but they are not the only way to deliver health and safety. And what this reflects–

PARKIN And how much lobbying did you receive from the farming industry, from your Caucus colleagues to get you to buy into that line?

WOODHOUSE There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the Caucus, but I can tell you that not a single farmer has approached me as minister about this issue.

PARKIN So you got bullied by the Caucus and the Caucus alone, was it?

WOODHOUSE Look, it was a pretty robust discussion, as you can imagine. But I am confident-

PARKIN You wanted farmers in there, didn’t you?

WOODHOUSE No. What I’ve wanted is the facts to determine risk. And the facts are these. Although the death and injury rate in our farms is high, they’re also our largest industry. So when you compare that on a per 1000 or per 100,000 basis, they fell below the threshold that was set.

PARKIN But now they’ve got the signal that the way they have been going is okay because you’ve made an exemption for them under this reform.

WOODHOUSE I don’t think that’s true at all. In fact, the farming community are very aware of my expectations for them to lift their game. The point is health and safety reps are not the only way to do that. There are many other ways to do that. They’ve been doing that in other organisations and in other industries.

PARKIN I want to quote you again from February. ‘120 people have been killed working on our farms since 2008, with four times as many fatalities last year compared to the forestry and construction industries.’ How is that a guy who doesn’t think that farming should be in his bill?

WOODHOUSE They are probably about five times bigger than the forestry industry, and on an equalised basis, the fatality rates are lower than forestry. Now, I want to take forestry as an example of an industry that has really picked up its game. There’s been a 95% reduction in death rates in the last 21 months and a halving of the serious harm rates. Why? Because they have picked up their game in terms of participation and cooperation across the sector. And that’s my expectation for farming.

PARKIN Let’s talk about the worm farms, lavender farms, catteries, curtain hanging, that sort of thing. Who dropped the ball here and didn’t spot those?

WOODHOUSE Look, I was focused on the high risk in advance of a conversation we haven’t even started with industry yet.

PARKIN But you knew this was going to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb. You should’ve pulled this stuff out. You shouldn’t have left yourself wide open to attack on this, should you?

WOODHOUSE I had the comb ready for the consultation process, which hasn’t started yet, Michael. So, sure, if you want to have a conversation about whether worm farms are riskier than dairy farms, that’s a conversation that will start. And I have no doubt, thanks to the attention that’s been raised on it, there will be an exemptions regime. But the important thing is we need to have a robust taxonomy and let the evidence guide us.

PARKIN When are you going to exempt those things so this point of mockery, now – because that’s what it’s become – is going to be eliminated from what you’re trying to do here?

WOODHOUSE We’ve got to get the bill through first, and I hope that happens next week. The consultation will start once we’ve got the legal ability to do that–

PARKIN You don’t need consultation to pull out something like a worm farm, do you? You can go through and pick out these things now.

WOODHOUSE Yes, I’ll do that when there’s a chance to do that. As I say, we haven’t even started the process, and, yes, it does seem a bit silly, but as I say, we haven’t even started that conversation. So let’s get the bill through. I offered the house to give them guidance. People have taken that and seen that as an opportunity to attack it. Fair enough. But I don’t want this to distract from the very important message that that is this reform bill is a significant improvement on the status quo, and I’m confident–

PARKIN But were you naïve to leave that in there? Because you’ve undermined your own messaging around this. I mean, you should’ve caught this, shouldn’t you?

WOODHOUSE Well, I mean, look, perhaps. I’m not going to resign from the fact people have had some fun around it. This is serious stuff–

PARKIN Were you let down by your officials on this?

WOODHOUSE No, not at all.

PARKIN Do you take full responsibility for those items being in there?

WOODHOUSE Well, they’re not in there. That’s the point, Michael. We haven’t started the process. So they are part of a group of industry classifications where there is high risk. So, laugh if you like, but the category that has worm farming in it killed 11 people and injured more than 1000 in the five years that we analysed the data.

PARKIN How did it do that?

WOODHOUSE So, sure, we can have fun about that– Well, they were obviously in the other occupations that made up that industry.

PARKIN How were those people killed on the worm farm?

WOODHOUSE No, I didn’t say that they were killed on the worm farm, Michael. What I said is the other industries that make up that grouping which is called other livestock farming – remember, that’s horse breeding and pig farming and alpaca farming and a number of others – had a high rate of death and injury. And I don’t think it’s something that we should be laughing about.

PARKIN You had the Pike River families obviously come down to Wellington earlier in the week. The bill wasn’t ready. That wasn’t a good look, was it?

WOODHOUSE What I did was the House leader made a commitment in the previous week that we would make progress on the health and Safety Reform bill that week. We did. Nobody ever nailed down 4 o’clock on Tuesday as being the time that the bill would start to be debated. And I regret that a number of people came down and didn’t get to listen to the start of the committee stage, but that wasn’t intentional.

PARKIN Are they wrong to feel let down by the bill? Those families?

WOODHOUSE I think they will– I can completely understand their desire, which is mine, to make sure that nobody else goes through what they’ve been through.

PARKIN And you haven’t met that desire in their view.

WOODHOUSE I’m confident that this bill will do that. But I’m also sure that we can write all the rules and regulations we like. What is going to make the step change in our workplaces is different attitudes and different behaviours. And that’s going to involve all of us, not just the health and safety rep with the high-vis vest. Every single person in the workplace has got to contribute to that.

PARKIN Just finally, in the first year of these reforms being in place, if we don’t see the number of workplace deaths dropping, will you resign as minister?

WOODHOUSE The government has set a goal of 25% by 2020–

PARKIN But in the first year of your reforms, this thing you’re now running through the House, would you be prepared to resign if it doesn’t work?

WOODHOUSE It’s already dropping, so we’re making progress. But our target is 2020–

PARKIN So you will?

WOODHOUSE Our target is for 2020, and I’m committed to reaching that.

Video: Immigration and Workplace Safety – Minister (11:12)

Andrew Little on Workplace Health and Safety

On The Nation yesterday (replayed today Sunday on TV3 at 10 am) Labour leader Andrew Little was questioned by Lisa Owen about the Workplace Health and Safety Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.

Let’s move on to the Health and Safety Bill. Now, you’re opposed to it. But Peter Dunne told us that he can’t believe— and this is a quote from him. Labour’s ‘breath-taking hypocrisy’, ‘because however incremental, this bill does make things better for workers, he says. Are you playing politics with worker safety?

No, I’m not. Look, health and safety is an absolutely crucial part of, you know, good workplace relations and good workplace practice. After Pike River, the disaster and the tragedy that was Pike River, that wasn’t just about a big employer. It was about small employers and businesses of fewer than 20 workers. That was a disaster that was avoidable with good systems, but most importantly, good culture.

So the main thing about the Health and Safety Reform Bill was about getting things in place to have a good culture in the workplace, and there was a consensus about that, and what the bill was first introduced, it was actually in pretty good nick, and I sat on the select committee, and we heard employers, and National Party were very good.

Something has changed in the last few months, and I think what’s happened is that the National Party has decided, or their supporters in the farming lobbies have said, ‘We don’t want a bar of this.’ And even though that is the sector that has the worst record of fatalities and serious accidents, this government is bending over backwards to exclude our businesses and our farming businesses that actually need legislation like this to improve their performance.

So you would want all businesses to have a safety… health and safety officer, regardless of their size or the risk? All of them?

It’s about having, you know, the art of health and safety. What it makes it work is when front-line workers — the front-line workforce — owns it, understands it and is involved in it.

So would you like those front-line workers to have the option, whatever the size business they’re working in or the risk level, to have a health and safety officer?

They should have the right to have one if they want it, and the reason for that is that when you’re dealing with your, you know, health and safety issues, concerns you have about safety at work, actually, going to a peer, going to your equal in the workforce is a way better way to go than relying on a manager or the boss who may not know the full detail of it, which has been, unfortunately, practised in far too many fatal accidents in workplaces so far.

Yet, in saying that, you are mocking the Government. You know, you’re mocking the Government. But, at the same time, you want every worm farmer, every lavender farmer, and every butterfly farmer— if you want every business to have one of these reps — you want that?

Uh, yeah. No, let’s get this right. We had a— we had a bill originally that created the same rule for everybody. That was the right thing to do, and what it did was—

Including all those—? Including all those occupations I’ve just listed? Everybody? So they would be in the mix?

Give workers in small workplaces the right to have a health and safety representative if they wanted one. If they don’t want one, no big deal. But what the government has done is said… They’ve taken fright and said, ‘We want to exempt small businesses.’ Then they decided they needed to ensure that all high-risk industries were included. So they then had to come up for an exemption to the exemption. Then they decided that they didn’t want to upset the farmers. So now they’ve had to come up with an exception to the exception to the exemption. It’s just a mess. It is a total mess.

But you want, Mr Little, would add to compliance costs for small businesses, yet at the start of the year, you said you want to take the handbrake off small businesses. So which is it?

Small businesses have health and safety practices at the moment. Good small businesses, and I’ve visited a lot of them. They do health and safety already, and there are good businesses involved in the workforce.

But you support those regulations being tougher, and that’s more compliance, more red tape and more costs.

Having… Giving a workforce of a small business the right to have their go-to person on health and safety is not a compliance cost. There’s no compliance cost in it. It’s having a go-to person. It’s having a point person in the workplace. A new worker, in particular, comes in. Doesn’t quite get it. They know where to go to on issues of health and safety. That’s what you want. That what gets better health and safety performance.

But a lot of small businesses would say that is more red tape. That is not taking the handbrake off.

Good businesses are doing it already. It’s not a handbrake. It’s not an impediment to good business at all. What we— but what we see in some sectors — and farming is the classic one — tend to be smaller business. They have the worst health and safety. More than a third of the fatalities, workplace fatalities in New Zealand in the past five years, have come from farms. Why would we exclude farms from having the best possible standards and procedures for health and safety. It doesn’t make sense.

Source: Transcript: Labour Party leader Andrew Little

Link to video: Interview: Labour Leader Andrew Little