THE GOVERNMENT'S DELICATE POLITICAL DANCE OVER HEALTH AND SAFETY.
By Richard Harman (author)
The controversial Health and Safety in Employment Reform Bill is expected back in the House today.
It was supposed to have been debated yesterday but was suddenly and inexplicably withdrawn by the Government.
That appears to have been because of a number of administrative and law drafting difficulties the Government was having with the Bill.
But even so there have been more changes.
These have apparently centred round the requirement in the Bill for businesses to elect health and safety representatives.
The Select Committee made that requirement optional for businesses with fewer than 20 workers unless they were designated as “high risk” businesses.
Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse has refused to specify what businesses might fit that category.
But POLITIK understands there is now a more prescriptive clause in the Bill designed to define a high risk business.
And rather than the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment drawing up the list of high risk business, it is understood that advice has been sought from ACC on what constitutes a high risk business.
“The New Zealand Employment Law Guide’ author, Richard Rudman says that In any case, all businesses — large or small — are required to “engage” with their workers on health and safety matters that might affect them.
“Engagement includes sharing relevant information; giving workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views and raise health or safety issues, and to contribute to decision-making; taking the workers’ views into account, and advising workers of the outcomes
“In addition, all businesses must have practices that provide reasonable opportunities for their workers to participate effectively in improving health and safety on an ongoing basis.
“Given these duties, exemption from the requirement for a committee or representative seems little relief for small businesses. “
Nevertheless the fact that the change has been made is an indication of how much political pressure the Government has been under over this Bill.
When POLITIK first reported that there was tension within National’s caucus over the original Bill, the sources for that story indicated that the main pressure was provincial MPs with some concerns also being expressed by Cabinet Ministers.
Those concerns also surfaced at the party’s annual conference when one rural delegate called the Bill “cocky bashing”.
It is this political situation that explains the delicate steps the Government is taking as it brings the Bill back to Parliament.
Meanwhile the Opposition are continuing their campaign against the Bill with a multi-party forum organised by Labour last night which included some of the families of those killed in the Pike River mining disaster.
Labour Leader Andrew Little speaking during Question Time challenged the Prime Minister to come to the Forum and “look the Pike River families in the eye and tell them that he has done all he can to prevent other families from suffering losses like theirs?”
Mr Key replied that he had met with the families on “many, many occasions.”
“I would be simply more than happy to reaffirm to the families that this Government has utterly stood behind the commitments that it has made,” he said.
He described the legislation that will come back today as the most significant review of workplace health and safety in more than two decades.
“There is a genuine desire, and also a need, to work with our support partners to actually get the legislation correct,” he said.