Health and Safety Rep Training – a cut by any other name

15 Jan

By Helen Kelly, President, NZ Council of Trade Unions

(Reprinted from The Standard)

I couldn’t give a rats arse about Jordan Williams and his new little Act campaigning vehicle against the State, but I do care about health and safety and the manner in which some of the media have run his latest little ruse against training health and safety representatives in the workplace is a disgrace. Judith Collins has used it as a cover to announce the end of worker health and safety training by unions beyond this year, leaving workers unable to access the powers under the Health and Safety Act to issue hazard notices and represent their workmates.

Pike River disaster where 29 miners died proof of the need for Health and Safety training

In the world’s fastest OIA turnaround (just 19 days), Collins has given Williams the advice she sought from ACC regarding the contract it has with the CTU to deliver training to Health and Safety Representatives.

This training is the recognised training workers need under the Act to be able to issue Hazard Notices legally and carry out the role of representative. We have trained over 30,000 workers since 2003 (mostly non-union) to carry out this heroic role despite National cutting down the numbers we can train each year to a new low this year of just 1800 trainees across the whole NZ workforce.

In 2008 ACC restricted access to the course to mainly workers from five of the most dangerous industries (and least unionised!). These industries – forestry, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, road freight transport, avoid using the CTU training for representatives and it has greatly increased the challenge to us to get trainees through the door. Many ignore the Act altogether and don’t even have a representative system. My recent visit with Simon Bridges to a forest contractor all went a bit pear shaped when I asked to meet the representatives (the contractor had 40 staff and was required to have elected reps but it is not even mentioned in the new Forestry regulations so the employer had no idea – MBIE having never enforced it).

Business NZ and Impac Services also offer training and are funded. The training deliverables for the contract do not focus on the outcomes of the training only the numbers trained but the course is approved and overseen by a tripartite group. An evaluation of the training was carried out in 2008 and found to be positive. This report was also released to Jordan.

Anyway Jordan has got all the information and it is very clear – the objective of the training is to improve worker health and safety capability in the workplace through increasing worker skills and knowledge of health and safety (we are talking about a 2 day training course here!). An ACC review of literature cited, supports health and safety training as having an immediate substantial positive effect on knowledge, behaviour and attitudes but is clear that in isolation of a good system overall the impact on accident rate is insignificant.

So the advice then confirms what we all know – the accident rate is terrible in NZ and the training has little impact because it is in isolation of a decent H&S system – not because the training is no good. Basically the Pike Inquiry and the Health and Safety Taskforce also strongly identified this – in addition to training and voice, workers need management buy-in, regulation, rights and power!.

Despite what is a fairly benign piece of Ministerial advice, Jordan has gone on the attack and says it confirms:

  • that the training did little if anything to reduce the accident rate (without saying that the paper makes it clear this is because of the weak system),
    – that the CTU has been challenged to meet its obligations since 2008 (2008 saw cuts and restrictions imposed by ACC in hard to reach industries – we mainly did meet them and turned down thousands of workers outside these industries that wanted training),
  • that the benefits of the training have been in doubt since 2008 (what is in doubt is the system!);and
  • that the ACC review showed the observed beneficial effects of the programme were “small and inconsistent in direction” (but this quote does not relate to the CTU contract but to the literature review of training generally).

And today, ACC said it was ending the programme anyway.

So what is the timeline here:

  • After a series of right wing blogs calling for Collins to end CTU ACC health and safety funding, on the 8 May in the middle of CTU campaign on Health and Safety, Collins ask ACC for a briefing paper on the ACC involvement with the CTU on health and safety training (but not Business NZ or Impac)
  • The paper is provided two days later and suggests there is insufficient other support for workers at work to make the training as effective as it could be but raises no issues of concern about the training itself.
  • In October 2013 Judith Collins is interviewed by the NBR and says she “intends to kill sacred cows that need slaughtering” and queries the value for money of the CTU programme. She says “comparatively few accidents happen in the workplace in New Zealand”
  • In a later press release she questions why this training should be provided free of charge to large employers stating that employers should pay for the training themselves rather than ACC. All three providers get the same subsidy per trainee from ACC but the CTU is the only provider that offers the course for free. Her release only refers to the CTU funding and says in relation to the Business NZ contract and Impac “two other entities have similarly arranged contracts.”
  • We call for the Minister to resign on the basis of her statement re the level of workplace accidents. After Pike and its findings, for the Minister of ACC, responsible for injury prevention, to suggest the workplace accident rate in this country is anything less than a disgrace is unacceptable. The Minister backs down and ‘clarifies’ her statement and the CTU contract for training is renewed for this year.
  • On 8 November Mr Williams makes his request, just 19 days later it is provided in full including the CTU contract but not the other two (we have no problem with our contract being available but we have been unable to get the contracts with Bus NZ and Impact but will now ask for them along with all the other provider contracts ACC has – very interesting!)
  • Today Jordan Williams does his very misleading release which few check the details of and ACC use the opportunity to say they have no intention of renewing the contract next year regardless.
  • Judith Collins follows up by saying the contract is “a rort”.

The thing about this is that the CTU has already asked the new Worksafe to work with us and Bus NZ on what the “workplace rep” piece of the new Safety system should look like including the training component. Workplaces with good systems including trained reps are safer workplaces.

The new law will empower reps and we need to have a training and support system that enables them to act effectively and this requires a new approach. It has been agreed to do this work and that in the interim the current programme fills the gap as the old law still requires it. We have even talked about the need to up skill the current trained reps in a way that doesn’t lose them all to the system. There is nothing sacred about any part of the system and we all want something better.

But this action today, essentially an anti-CTU attack by Collins to cover her cuts to training, this collaboration against the 30,000 reps that have put themselves forward and got the training, taken up the role against the odds and are working away to the best of their endeavours in a stacked system is a disgrace and Judith Collins and her boy, collaborating together against better workplace health and safety just shows how low they both are prepared to stoop.

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