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Media release

28 April 2011

Workers Memorial Day a time to reflect on the rights of the living and role of ACC

Hazel Armstrong, spokesperson for the ACC Futures Coalition, today stressed the need to fight for the rights of the living, while commemorating those workers who have lost their lives at work.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Lower Hutt workshops of KiwiRail to honour workers memorial day, Ms Armstrong called on those present to remember the 29 Pike River miners, the 180 who died in the Christchurch earthquake at work, at study and at home, and the 27 Rail and Maritime Trade Union rail and port members have been killed at work since 1994.

Ms. Armstrong also identified less obvious forms of workplace induced deaths.

“Hidden are those who die when they have left the workplace from diseases caused by their occupations. Clean workplace air would prevent many diseases and one would think that this would be a simple matter. But over 1,000 workers have contracted diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural abnormalities from dirty air at work. These workers are asbestos process workers from the plants that made asbestos products in the 1960’s in Auckland and Christchurch, and plumbers, fitters, laggers, carpenters, builders who breathe in the toxic asbestos fibres”.

Ms. Armstrong went on to identify what fighting for the living means.

“Fighting for the living means that we need to be aware of the hazards at work, and be aware that inhaling dirty workplace air can be harmful. Unfortunately over the last twenty years NZ has not achieved the same level of improvements in workplace health and safety that other developed countries have made such as the US, Sweden and Germany.”

“Fighting for the living means that worker’s rights must be recognised”, said Ms. Armstrong. “In 1992 the Government took away the right for workers in coal mines to elect their own check inspectors. In 2006 there was a review of health and safety in underground mining and the unions called for the reinstatement of worker elected check inspectors. There is a Royal Commission into the Pike River mining tragedy and the unions will once again call for their restoration.”

“In 2002, union pressure succeeded in having the Health and Safety in Employment Act amended to introduce elected health and safety representatives. In 2010 after on-going relentless pressure the Department of Labour has issued a practice note to its inspectors that where health and safety representatives exist, the inspector will endeavour to involve the representative during any workplace visit.”

Ms. Armstrong also drew attention to the role of ACC. “Fighting for the living also requires us not only to prevent injury, improve workplace conditions but to ensure that if someone suffers an injury they are treated and compensated. The ACC scheme which the Government relied on to assist those injured and killed in the Christchurch earthquake has cost ACC $2.5m to date and is expected to cost $200m. Providing medical treatment has cost $800,000. ACC did not have to go to Government for a bail out (unlike AMI). Our state run compensation system is working and we have to fight to preserve it.”

“Honour the dead. Commit to fight for the living and those injured at work”,  Ms. Armstrong concluded.


ENDS

Contact: Hazel Armstrong : 027 472 1793

 

09:17AM Thursday, 28 April, 2011

 
 
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