• Graham Burke is president of the Specialist Trade Contractors Federation.
When New Zealanders jump into a new car we rightly expect the vehicle to meet rigid quality standards. So, when we go home at night, why should we accept sleeping in the same room as an electrical appliance that may not meet such standards, potentially malfunction and start a fire?
This is a scenario already facing New Zealand and it can only be addressed through a change in legislation to prevent the continued erosion of the quality standards Kiwis have every right to rely on.
Standards NZ is tasked with ensuring products, processes, services and performance meet agreed specifications. However, Standards NZ has been struggling for years and is also struggling to meet its commitments to joint standards shared with Australia.
Problems have become acute since Standards NZ was incorporated into the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) last year. There is a lack of leadership and transparency, weak structures and limited accountability.
There is inadequate funding to match the demand of any industry in the construction sector and there is poor communication between Standards NZ, MBIE and industry stakeholders such as us.
The Specialist Trade Contractors Federation's members account for more than 60 per cent of construction activity in New Zealand and cover a diverse range of services including plumbing, scaffolding, electrical and precast concrete. Our membership includes master plumbers and master electricians. We recognise the importance of strong standards and the role Standards NZ should be taking in ensuring the integrity of products, infrastructure, services and public confidence in the sector.
There are two issues the public should be concerned about. First, loss of standards means the consumer does not have a benchmark to measure critical performance and safety of affected products. Second, the various regulators, including MBIE, are not enforcing the existing standards.
Recent media coverage of incidents of flooding through faulty braided hoses - widely used in construction and renovation - is a high-profile example of the problems caused by lack of credible policing of New Zealand standards. However, across our membership we have seen many other examples, including shower doors which are supposed to be safety glass but have shattered, and ladders which don't meet safety requirements.
There are existing New Zealand standards for these items. Standards NZ claim these have been developed with the help of "some of the best and brightest people within their fields serving on standards development committees. Their time, expertise, and knowledge are crucial to delivering standards solutions that are relevant and practical."
Our members have for a long time played an active role in New Zealand standards committees. The cost for them to be involved in these is significant and there is no or very little cost recovery. This investment in standards is lost if the regulator does nothing to enforce them.
Why would plumbers invest their time and money in developing a standard covering flexible pipe fittings when MBIE allows cheap low-quality product to be sold and installed in the homes of unwitting consumers who face the significant cost of repair to damage caused by these products failing?
We support joint standards with Australia, unfortunately these standards are being dominated by Australia's timetable, view and directions due to Standards NZ not meeting their responsibilities. Some standards have even been dropped due to Standards NZ's refusal to fund the costs despite the industry investing significant time and resources providing technical expertise.
Without consistent enforcement of New Zealand standards as a benchmark of quality, how can Kiwis know whether the products they are buying are safe or not? Currently the onus is being put on consumers to do the checking.
The only solution is an overhaul of legislation governing standards. The current self-funding approach is unsustainable. We have written to Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Jacqui Dean and Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith, pressing for urgent action.
We are calling for the act that regulates Standards NZ to be reviewed to allow government funding to enable Standards NZ to function sustainably. Furthermore, any new regime needs to be underpinned by effective enforcement and penalties. New Zealand needs to regulate the supply of construction goods and equipment, including the imposition of strong penalties as a deterrent to suppliers of non-conforming products.
New Zealand prides itself on being a first-world country. We do not currently have a first-world standards regime.