Workers’ Memorial Day

The news that a body

may have been found underground

at Pike River is a sad reminder of the dangers many New Zealand workers face.

Today is Workers’ Memorial Day – a day of remembrance for workers killed, disabled, or injured through their jobs.

In New Zealand Pike River will cast a long shadow.  There are many other occupations and workers who are also deserving of our thoughts.

Those working in the construction and forestry industries accounted for 13 deaths in the latest annual Department of Labour statistics for workplace fatalities, not to mention the horrific injury toll, amounting to 15% of the construction workforce annually.  The Rail and Maritime union secretary, Wayne Butson, said today that 27 of his members had been killed at work since 1994.

Mr Butson said that in addition to workers dying on the job, many leave work and ‘carry with them hidden time bombs of occupational disease, estimated to kill between 700 to 1000 annually.

It is good to see that the current Minister

Kate Wilkinson has acknowledged

Workers’ Memorial Day, however lip service is not enough.

Workplaces are safer when workers and their unions feel confident to address safety issues, and this has not been helped by the National government’s industrial legislation.

Workers on 90 day trial periods in high risk industries are less likely to complain about practices that may be injurious to their health.


prompt union access

makes it that much more difficult for union officials to monitor health and safety concerns of their members.

Another government move in the wrong direction is the green light for Petrobras to begin drilling off the east coast of New Zealand. Eleven workers were killed and 17 injured when BP’s Deep Sea Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, and that was just the beginning of health problems, which affected the wider community.