19 Aug 2015

Backroom talks over workplace safety bill

12:25 pm on 19 August 2015

Frantic horsetrading is going on behind the scenes at Parliament, as parties try to get their changes into controversial health and safety legislation.

Deborah McMillan and her daughter Skylar, 8. Her husband Shane McMillan was killed in a forestry accident in 2009

A vigil held earlier this month for those killed in workplace accidents. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

The bill was due to be debated in Parliament last night but Workplace Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said he had had to sort out some technical issues with minor parties.

It will now go before Parliament this afternoon.

The legislation had been heavily criticised for going light on some employers by removing the requirement for small businesses to have elected health and safety representatives.

Families of workers who died on the job gathered at Parliament last night for a panel discussion with MPs.

They used the opportunity to call for the Government to make the legislation as strong as possible.

Anna Osbourne lost her husband, Milton, in the Pike River mine tragedy, which cost 29 workers their lives.

"The current attempts to water down health and safety regulations is a slap in the face for me, the families of the 29, the 29 men dead, and New Zealand workers as a whole."

Taranaki woman Sarah Kane lost her brother, Michael, in a workplace accident in 2012.

"The legislation is going to contributue towards New Zealand being a better place for us all to live and work and raise our families.

"Please, we need to enforce these original laws because my family and I know what it feels like to be the ones left behind."

Opposition parties at vigil

Representatives of Labour, New Zealand First, the Green and the Maori parties, which have all put forward amendments for the bill, spoke at the vigil.

The ACT party, United Future and the National Party were conspicuously absent.

Labour MP Sue Moroney said Labour wanted all workers to be able to elect a health and safety representative - if they wanted to.

"The majority of employers want best health and safety practice and they came to our committee and they told us so, and those employers now feel, I think, very embarrassed at the approach this government has taken with their prevarication."

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox told the vigil the party had been negotiating with the Minister, Michael Woodhouse, over the changes it wanted.

"The fact that this bill has been held up, it's because we've been pushing very hard with the minister to try to make the changes to address the issues that we have with it.

"I don't want to overpromise and say that we are going to get everything, but we are trying very hard."

With the numbers in Parliament so tight, United Future's vote could be the deciding factor.

Leader Peter Dunne said he was not prepared to show his hand just yet.

"Well, you've got to start from the position that the bill, even as it stands, is a stronger version of the legislation that was passed 20-odd years ago.

"There are still some major areas where it needs to be improved, and we are currently discussing ways in which that can happen."

He said the delay was not a tactical move to shore up support, despite saying he needed to address some issues raised by minor parties.

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