Helen Kelly: Forestry boss just ducking safety crisis

By Helen Kelly

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Helen Kelly. FILE
Helen Kelly. FILE

Forestry Industry Contractors' Association chief executive John Stulen acts irresponsibly when he advocates that forestry industry employers should not be prosecuted for any accidents (Rotorua Daily Post, June 13).

Of 900 accidents since 2008 only 12 prosecutions have been taken by Worksafe and this has contributed to the crisis of safety in the industry. We learned the hard way in Pike River, where 200 safety notifications made by workers were ignored by the department; the result was catastrophe. We're facing a similar crisis in forestry.

A lack of leadership in the industry has already been identified in the forestry review as a weakness leading to the unacceptable injury rate. Mr Stulen represents the largest group of organised contractors in New Zealand and the way he constantly minimises the extent of safety issues within the industry isolates him and them from the rest of the industry, who are showing a renewed commitment and energy to health and safety.

Mr Stulen should put his energy into confronting the industry's abysmal safety record - everyone else is.

The owners are reviewing their processes. The contractors are meeting the review panel to talk about solutions and the workers are too. Workers and contractors are joining the union campaign and helping us contribute to the various initiatives and to maintain the momentum for change.

There is a new union in forestry. First Forestry Together is open to families and forestry workers and both are joining up.

With such a long period without a union, the industry wages and conditions have seriously deteriorated to a point where workers are working unreasonable hours, in unsafe conditions for very low wages. Training has deteriorated as has employment security. Many contractors are struggling alongside their workers to make ends meet.

The forest owners understand the power of working collectively and have their own organisation. Now workers also have this chance.

The attacks on the union from a person in Mr Stulen's position is a breach of the principles of Freedom of Association. Workers feel forced to join in secret because of this attitude. When 320,000 Kiwis belong to unions freely, why should forestry workers be victimised? The industry has enjoyed the years of non-union conditions to dominate the workforce and enrich itself at the workers' expense, and it is clear that some will fight hard to keep it that way. Mr Stulen's attitude is a micro display of underlying problems in the industry that lead to the very unsafe conditions.

Luckily for forestry workers, there are plenty of very good contractors out there who don't like the current model and want a new approach. These contractors support our campaign and although bits of it are tough (eg, the prosecutions), they accept they are part of making this industry as good as it can be for everyone.

- Helen Kelly is the president of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).

- Rotorua Daily Post

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