The reason Talley's Group Enterprises costs the country almost $2 million in ACC payments to injured workers is because too many of them are high on drugs and booze.

That's the gospel according to Peter Talley, recently knighted by the Government, as written in his submission to the Health and Safety Reform Bill select committee at the end of last year.

"Many workplace accidents in New Zealand are unfortunately the direct result of impairment caused by drug and alcohol," he pens to the committee. "Until such time as the CTU support workplace drug testing or the Government introduces empowering legislation to allow compulsory work site drug and urine testing, draconian penalties for work place accidents should be curtailed."

Put aside for a moment the fact the CTU does support reasonable testing; also disregard the fact most companies, including Talley's, compel their workers to take such tests anyway. Draconian, to them, is allowing for "elected Health & Safety representatives" ("a way to hand control of work groups to unions" they reckon); more stringent obligations for employers and heavier penalties for breaches ("will encourage abuse by unions and employees"); and extending health and safety rules to partner companies ("used by the union as another tool to force companies to capitulate to union desires").


Talley's says the current scheme is working just fine. Which is a strange way to interpret a string of horrible accidents over many years that have seen the company dragged through the courts and made to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The pattern goes much further back than this week's revelation that Talley's had been forced to pay a worker $6000 for his poisoning in a meat chiller at the Malvern freezing works. It includes fines and convictions for two dead fishermen, carbon monoxide poisonings, and hooks in the head, amongst others. But even more than that are over 1200 claims to ACC made by employees of the Talley's Group in the 2014 year alone.

Talley's meat workers give their bosses absolute discretion over shifts, allow them to sack workers over "irreconcilable differences" and force them to hand over medical and ACC information to the company. The problem is that while the company does have health and safety officers, they are not obliged to listen to them. That, and the fact that fewer people are doing much more, is creating potential dangers.

Not that it isn't a tough job, according to "Reg" (not his real name) who has worked almost four decades on the abattoir floor. He says although injuries from cuts have decreased because of better protective gear, long-term debilitating injuries like Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS), munted backs and arms, dermatitis, and strained backs are wreaking havoc on the workforce.

Reg understands that some of these strains and pains are an inevitable part of a demanding job, but what is not inevitable is the sheer volume that fewer employees are putting through the works. He says that at one time, 45 butchers on a chain would process 3450 beasts a day. These days, 23 butchers process 3600 a day. Someone of his seniority doesn't quite make $30 an hour, and they're all laid off for three months in calf season.

He says many of his workmates are on long-term pain relievers to get through their work, and that, combined with therapies are costing the taxpayer big time - the meat industry overall costing ACC over $15 million a year.

That something needs to be done for the health and welfare of workers goes without saying, but it's also important for the taxpayer. Yet it looks now as though Talley's is seeking to exert influence over some of those in the Government's back benches, lobbying them to water down the changes currently proposed and effectively handing companies even more power to trample workers rights.

On the one hand Talley's believes unions are a declining influence. And yet in the workplace they wield, according to the musings of Sir Peter Talley, "excessive power". He also writes "it is impossible to conduct fair and reasonable negotiations when under threat".