Eight-year-old Skyla Frater and her mother, Deborah McMillan, had a message for Prime Minister John Key this morning outside the National Party in Auckland this morning about weakening health and safety proposals.

"We're here to show National that we are not going to be quiet," Deborah McMillan of Hamilton said. " We are not going to give up. We are all going to stand together and keep fighting for change."

Protestors make them selves known to the public and the police outside the Annual National Party conference held at Skycity Convention Centre. Photo / Nick Reed, New Zealand Herald
Protestors make them selves known to the public and the police outside the Annual National Party conference held at Skycity Convention Centre. Photo / Nick Reed, New Zealand Herald

Her husband, Shane Frater, was killed in a forestry accident in Napier in 2009 when a branch hit him.

The Health and Safety Reform Bill was reported back from select committee on Friday - watered down from the original bill which would have given all workers the right to have health and safety reps.

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Photo / Nick Reed, New Zealand Herald
Photo / Nick Reed, New Zealand Herald

"If your company has less than 20 employees, they are going to take away your right to have a health and safety rep and my husband came from a crew with less than 20 employees," she said.

"A lot of forestry gangs are small so it is not helping them at all with health and safety."
The pair stood vigil among 290 white crosses - the number of people who have died in work accidents since 2010.

Protestors make them selves known to the public and the police outside the Annual National Party conference held at Skycity Convention Centre. Photo / Nick Reed, New Zealand Herald
Protestors make them selves known to the public and the police outside the Annual National Party conference held at Skycity Convention Centre. Photo / Nick Reed, New Zealand Herald

The Council of Trade Unions will be taking the crosses around the country in the first week of August, finishing up with a protest at Parliament.

The original proposal to allow all workers the right to have health and safety representatives was supported by the task force, including employers, which reviewed of health and safety laws in the wake of the deaths of 29 mean in the Pike River mining disaster.

Employer groups are now split over the changes: the Employers and Manufacturers' Northern support the original plan for universal entitlement; Business New Zealand has welcomed the changes on behalf of small businesses.

Prime Minister John Key told reporters at the conference he was confident that a small forestry company would be defined as a high-risk business under regulations associated with the reforms - meaning it would not be exempted from the right to health and safety representatives even if it employed fewer than 20 people.

But Workplace Minister Michael Woodhouse confirmed that that will not be known before the bill is passed.

The types of businesses to be defined as high-risk or low-risk - by officials in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment - would not be known before Parliament debated the remaining stages of the bill.

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Mr Key said the Government took workplace safety seriously.

"We accept that too many people have died in the workplace."

"In terms of the health and safety law reform, we have tried desperately hard to get the right balance here.

"And I do think as a result of the legislation the workplace in New Zealand will be safer.

He said he was confident that the regulations to define high risk businesses would include forestry.

Mr Woodhouse said he hoped the bill would be passed over the next couple of sessions of Parliament and take effect some time next year. But he regulations would require more consultation over the next few months.

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"It is not a simple equation of saying that the death and injury statistics are the only proxy for risk. We do have deaths on farms and in forestry and in construction. We haven't had a death at the aluminium smelter or at Marsden Pt. That doesn't make them low-risk.

"We need to create a more definition of constitutes risk and put those sensible regulations in place."

He said the lack of obligation to have a health and safety rep did not remove the obligation to have good worker participation practices.

Asked if farms would be high-risk or low-risk, he said that had not been decided.