In Part 1 of the series on the problems I have with National and A.C.T.’s employment policies, I focussed on the lack of sick leave available in New Zealand, and why cutting the minimum wage will not work. In this part I examine work place accident policies and support for workers who are fatigued or stressed.
Work place safety is something of a hodge podge issue in New Zealand. There are employers who take their responsibilities to their workers very seriously. There are employers who do what they have to in order to stay compliant, but no more. And there are employers who are knowingly negligent. It is an matter that has attracted negative overseas attention as a result of accidents causing serious injury or death to foreign visitors, but also just as alarmingly, people from other countries working in New Zealand’s jurisdiction who have been short changed.
In some cases I am aware of, employees were not properly vetted to ensure that they were appropriately licenced to drive certain classes of vehicles. A bus requires a Class 5 heavy passenger vehicle licence as well as a P-Endorsement; a taxi driver needs a full drivers licence as well as the P-Endorsement. In a case I am aware of, the driver and owner of a bus that was stopped by Police did not have the necessary licences and that the licence shown was in another drivers name. More concerning is that since then there have been at least two fatal bus crashes involving drivers not from New Zealand, nor necessarily familiar with New Zealand road conditions. Such accidents have the potential to harm our tourism industry as these will be seized upon by the media in the country that the tourists originated from.
It is not just tourists though, who suffer. The high seas off the coast of New Zealand have an unfortunate reputation for being a sort of “wild west” where anything goes in terms of occupational safety and health. A series of accidents in the last decade involving fishing trawlers that are not seaworthy go some way towards highlighting this. In particular I am thinking of three Korean fishing trawlers from the Oyang Corporation – No. 70, 75 and 77 – that were loaned to a N.Z. fishing company Southern Storm. No. 70 sank off the coast of Dunedin. No. 75 was forfeit to the Crown in 2012 after the crew won a court case over not being paid. As was No. 77 for similar reasons in 2014.
The problem I have is that National and A.C.T. have a track record of “cutting red tape” in the name of freeing up businesses from legal requirements. Sometimes the cuts are justified, but more often than not, there is a cost to pay. They claim that the market will police itself in terms of complying with occupational safety and health. They claim that the worst offenders will go under because they will have no work. All too often the market has shown it:
- Does not know how to police itself
- WILL not police itself – if it did many of the cases that wind up in the employment court would be resolved long before that stage
The other issue I want to address is the case of work place fatigue. This is a particularly relevant matter at the moment with COVID19 having caused huge impacts on peoples lives, both at home and at work. For many families this has been their annus horribilus in that the disruption brought on by a necessary lock down has pushed not only working age people, but also their families to the limits.
Workplace fatigue is dangerous. It can lead to accidents. It can lead to negligence, whilst not immediately causing an accident could be a contributing factor to a future accident. It can lead to generally lower working standards. Fatigue has numerous symptoms, including lack of concentration, sluggishness, poor decision making, indifference in attitude among others.
Neither party have released an policy specific to this, but it is probably not necessary. A combination of having workplace working conditions reduced as they have outlined in other policies, such as A.C.T.’s plan to cut the minimum wage, National’s dislike of breaks at work, could be enough to push a person in a fragile position over the edge. A person needs enough income that they are able to afford the necessities of life, which is something Mr Seymour and his Deputy Brooke Van Velden seem determined to not understand. If they have the necessities of life, then their quality of life and the likelihood that it will improve their quality of employment, will likely improve.