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Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill — Second Reading

Sitting date: 22 Oct 2013

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[Sitting date: 22 October 2013. Volume:694;Page:14086. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

Second Reading

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: I move, That the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill be now read a second time. I thank the members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee and its chair, David Bennett, for dealing with this important bill so swiftly and efficiently, and for reporting it back to the House earlier than scheduled. I would also like to thank those who made submissions on the bill. The select committee has recommended that the bill proceed, with a number of amendments, and I agree with the amendments proposed.

This bill is the Government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy by the end of this year. The first part of the bill establishes the stand-alone agency WorkSafe New Zealand. In relation to the board of WorkSafe, submitters were unclear as to whom the phrase “workplace participants” referred. Some were concerned that knowledge and experience of the workers’ perspectives were not clearly stated in the skill set for the board. This clause has been amended to refer to perspectives of workers and perspectives of employers, to provide clarity. The objective of WorkSafe has also been amended to align with the Australian Model Work Health and Safety Act, which will be the basis for new legislation that will replace the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, as was announced in August. WorkSafe’s main objective will be to promote and contribute to securing the health and safety of workers and workplaces. This sends a strong signal of WorkSafe’s intent in the health and safety system, from the outset.

Part 2 of the bill provides the necessary statutory support for the new mining regulations. The issue that attracted the most attention from submitters, both in response to the Safe mines: safe workers consultation document and in response to the bill, was whether quarries should be included in the new regulatory regime. There are about 1,000 quarries in New Zealand, and by far the majority of them are small operations with just a handful of employees. The Government supports the conclusion that quarries and alluvial mining operations do not entail the same level of hazard as other mining operations, and should be removed from the definition of a mining operation. However, the quarry industry recognises that it needs to raise health and safety standards, and it is commencing work with officials to develop, in the first instance, a set of guidelines for health and safety. The intention is that these will form the basis for quarry-specific regulations in the future.

Several key changes have also been made to the functions and powers of site health and safety representatives. Many submitters argued that the bill should explicitly set out all the functions and powers necessary for site health and safety representatives to do an effective job. Accordingly, two new functions have been added. These are a general function to represent mine workers in matters relating to health and safety, and a function carried over from the current health and safety framework to promote the interests of mine workers who are harmed at work. To exercise the powers relating to inspection and stopping work, site health and safety representatives are required to meet certain prescribed competency standards. This has not changed. What has changed is that site representatives will not have to hold these competencies before they put themselves up for election. It was felt that this would unnecessarily limit candidates for the role. Instead, the representatives will not be able to exercise these particular powers until they have received the necessary training. To address concerns relating to information that health and safety representatives will have access to as they carry out their functions, as raised by some industry submitters, a confidentiality provision has been added.

Other changes include adding an immunity from liability provision for health and safety representatives, adding a positive duty on mine operators to ensure that site representatives have sufficient time and access to facilities to enable them to carry out their functions and exercise their powers, and permitting mine workers to elect a temporary health and safety representative while an appeal against the removal of a representative is under way.

The committee heard a range of views from submitters on the issue of the scope of industry health and safety representatives, otherwise known as check inspectors. We agree with the committee that they are appointed only for the underground coalmining sector, as was recommended by the Pike River royal commission. Although all the mining operations that are proposed to be covered by the new regime have principal hazards, there is a substantial additional risk in the underground coal sector that relates to the presence of methane. The vast majority of multiple fatality incidents in the mining industry in the past 100 years has occurred in this sector. The Government considers that this is where the resource of industry health and safety representatives—the extra set of eyes and ears, the extra line of defence—that the royal commission spoke of is best targeted. The final part of the bill ensures that the legislation that supports the mine’s rescue service is fit for purpose, and minor amendments have been recommended by the committee.

The changes recommended by the committee reflect a balanced and careful consideration of the wide range of comments made by submitters. They clarify the provisions establishing WorkSafe New Zealand, they reflect a sensible conclusion on which sectors of the mining industry should be included in the scope of the legislation, and they further strengthen the worker participation arrangements at mining operations.

I would like to take this opportunity to signal the intention to introduce a Supplementary Order Paper. The proposed changes will support the proposed inter-agency protocol for responding to major underground mining emergencies, in particular by recognising the functions of the incident controller, who will take the lead in determining how the emergency response proceeds. This protocol has been developed in response to a recommendation of the royal commission. These issues were not able to be included in the bill as introduced, as the protocol was still in development and had yet to be tested, which occurred earlier this month. The Supplementary Order Paper will also include an amendment that will enable any surplus levy collected to cover the costs of the mine’s rescue service, to be used, when necessary, to build up and maintain the trust’s reserve fund for dealing with mining emergencies.

Once again, I would like to thank the select committee and all those involved in expediting the progress of this important bill. We owe this to the workers who lost their lives at Pike River, to their families, and to all current and future workers in the mining industry. I commend this bill to the House.

ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) : It is a pleasure to take a call on the second reading of the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill and to acknowledge that although this bill has been motivated and activated by the tragic and disastrous events of Pike River, the issues underpinning it actually predate that dreadful event.

I refer to a paper prepared by the Department of Labour in September 2008, in which it analysed the problems with the current framework for health and safety. One of the problems it identified was what it described as “a lack of procedural guidance on employee participation”, which “leaves underground mining potentially open to commercial pressures and day-to-day worksite management decisions”. So it is right to look at this bill, it having now been through the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, against the problem that was identified even 2 years before the Pike River tragedy.

Although there are many aspects of this bill that we find favour with—and on that basis we will be supporting it—there are nevertheless some concerns that we continue to have. It is good that the bill legislates for an independent, stand-alone health and safety agency. It is something that for some time had been called for. That is in place in the form of WorkSafe New Zealand.

The disappointing aspect of the bill at present is the governance of WorkSafe New Zealand, and not just the governance but the power to establish advisory groups in it. In putting the board of WorkSafe New Zealand together, the relevant Minister is required to “have regard to the need to ensure” that the body has certain people amongst its membership. There is no requirement to have any specific category of person, or a person from a relevant organisation; it is simply that the Minister has regard to the need.

And then there are the particular classes of skill or competency described in clause 7 of the bill. After it talks about public sector governance and central government processes—we need people experienced in those—it goes on to describe people who have “perspectives of workers:” and people who have “perspectives of employers:”. We are now so diluting exactly what we are trying to get to here. This was modelled on the British Health and Safety Executive. When that was established in 1974, it was absolutely clear that they were people who came out of employers’ organisations, people who came out of unions and workers’ organisations, and people who were there to represent the Government. That is what we should have. That was, in the 1974 British legislation, about setting up a genuinely tripartite process.

This bill in its current wording does not do that. It does not speak to tripartism. It speaks to the old neo-liberal public management theory, which we have had for the last 30 years. In my submission, it is inadequate, and if it progresses in this current form and, indeed, this is the basis on which WorkSafe New Zealand is established, it will be found to be inadequate.

The bill goes on to say under clause 8 that the governing board of WorkSafe New Zealand can establish advisory groups. They are described as providing “a forum for dialogue … between the Government, employers, and workers”. So that is the level of tripartism. It is not about genuinely sharing decision making; it is about providing a forum for dialogue. So we think that the bill does not go far enough in providing a genuinely tripartite process and a shared decision-making process for employers and for workers through their unions.

The next aspect that I want to draw attention to relates to the scope of the bill, particularly in relation to the new workplace health and safety procedures—the establishment of what are now described as “site health and safety representatives” and “industry health and safety representatives”. When it comes to site health and safety representatives, it is interesting that that part of it, and, indeed, the entire bill, now excludes quarrying, which originally was included in the bill.

Quarries are still unsafe places, or at least are hazardous places. There are plenty of hazards in quarries, no matter how big or small an employer the quarry owner might be. I have to say we take no comfort from the representations of the member Michael Woodhouse, who just spoke on behalf of the Minister of Labour and seems to draw a distinction between the big employer and the small employer. When you are a worker, the size of the workforce does not matter; it is the work that you do that is hazardous or dangerous, not the size of your employer. So drawing these artificial distinctions is not helpful.

We take no comfort from the fact that quarrying and, indeed, gold mining and other alluvial mining are to be excluded from this legislation. It is encouraging to see that tunnelling is still included, at least in so far as site health and safety representatives are included. We should bear in mind that it is only a matter of a few weeks ago that we saw the aftermath of probably one of the worst tunnelling accidents we have had in this country, where gas that had accumulated in a tunnel in an urban area ignited and blew up. It killed one person, it blew the legs off another, and it endangered and injured many others. So we should not see that tunnelling is any safer than, indeed, underground coalmining. It is still capable of being unsafe because of the build-up of gases, whether they are natural, piped, or whatever.

The unfortunate thing is that although tunnelling is covered by the site health and safety representative provisions of this bill, the industry health and safety representative provisions do not include tunnelling. They are confined solely to underground coalmining. There is no question that the piece of legislation, animated and inspired by the tragic events of Pike River, is, of course, going to cover underground coalmining. But, as the royal commission takes pains to point out in its report, the reality is that although it is talking about an incident, an event, a tragedy that arose in the underground coalmining industry—Pike River—many of its findings have a wider application. So it is disappointing that when it comes to a very innovative provision—at least, innovative for New Zealand; not innovative for other parts of the world—it has been confined to that very small part of the industry, underground coalmining.

Nevertheless, it is good to see that where workers and their unions are of a mind to do so, they can appoint an industry health and safety representative. That will have some real power and ability to make some real difference and do some real things. If I can go back, it is encouraging, actually, to see that the site health and safety representative will have some real power as well—some power to intervene and to stop work where necessary, subject to requirements of good faith and subject to the obligation to communicate clearly and effectively with the employer. A site health and safety representative, elected by workers, will have the power to go directly to inspectors—go outside the business—and also to directly take steps to stop work where it is regarded as unsafe and unhealthy. I think that is a welcome provision.

It is going to be interesting to see how well-supported that is, particularly by WorkSafe New Zealand and its staff—its inspectors. If there was one thing that was consistent in the flavour of many of the submissions by employers that went to the select committee, it was “Oh, yes, we think we need to do a lot more about health and safety, but we don’t want anybody having these sorts of powers.” Employers, particularly those that do not have unions or union representatives in the workplace, appear to be, in their submissions, concerned about this possibility. They should not be concerned. If anything, it is the workforces in those places that should feel encouraged and, at least now, have a greater sense of safety and a greater sense of confidence that they can go about their work, knowing that somebody working shoulder to shoulder with them knows what is going on and has the power now to make meaningful steps to ensure health and safety in the workplace. So we welcome those things. We will have some slight changes to make in the Committee stage of this bill to improve, I think, these aspects.

Just one final point on the mines rescue provisions of the bill is that it is disappointing to see that no provision has been made to confirm that the Mines Rescue trust controls a future incident.

DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) : I just want to follow on from the first two speeches on the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill in its second reading. I thought that we had two very good speeches, from the Minister and also from Andrew Little. I would just like to thank the members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for the way that they have engaged in working through this bill. Mike Sabin did a great job as deputy chairperson. Other members of the committee travelled throughout the country. We went to Westport to hear firsthand from the community and families down there. I just want to acknowledge Damien O’Connor, who was there with us that day, and pay respect to the community and to the families involved.

That tragedy has led to this bill, effectively, coming before the House. There are three main strands in the bill. The first area is the creation of WorkSafe New Zealand. This is a new workplace health and safety agency, a Crown entity, that I think all parties in this Parliament will see a lot of benefit from. There may be some debate around how it is comprised and some of its effectiveness in the sense of the rules around how it applies to certain situations. It is a huge initiative in the health and safety area, and I think all parties here will acknowledge that it is a major change in health and safety in New Zealand, a change that we all support, and we look forward to its implementation over time. It will also necessarily evolve and will take different forms as it goes through its different functions, but we have a very strong starting point at this time.

The second part of the bill amends the provisions of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 to support new initiatives around the management of hazards in the mining industry. The major change here, since the select committee hearing, has been in regard to the differentiation between coal and other forms of mining. The guts of it is that in a coalmine there is the potential for methane gas to build up. That then creates the potential for an explosion, which then creates the potential for loss of life and injury. In the situation of a coalmine, it is reflected in the higher standard of rules that are required, from other types of mining where there is not such a perceived risk because there is not the build-up of methane. So, essentially, that is the Australian approach, and it is the one that has been adopted in this bill. It is something that is practical, but it also serves the purpose of dealing with the issue of methane build-up in coalmines. Part 3 of the bill creates a new Mines Rescue Act 2013, replacing the Mines Rescue Trust Act of 1992. As has been noted by other speakers, that involves a number of procedural issues around making the role and functions of the Mines Rescue Trust better reflect the current environment.

So, overall, this is very solid bill. I would once again like to thank all members of this House and the parties for the way that they have conducted the inquiry, and also looking at the rules to make sure that we get the best result for our communities and also for our industries that are involved. This is a successful bill that reflects that. Thank you.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) : I would like to firstly say that whether by good design or divine intervention—whatever—it is appropriate that the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill comes into the House today, after we have seen for a day or so down on the West Coast an operation that starts the process of re-entering the mine to try to, firstly, recover any of the bodies of the 29 men who may be in the drift, and, secondly, find out more information that may contribute to understanding what happened almost 3 years ago down at Pike River. I think the families, who will be closely monitoring what is happening on the coast and may be monitoring what is happening in the House here, should be comforted in some small way by the fact that that terrible tragedy has led to this legislation, and it has taught each and every one of us in Parliament some lessons, and, hopefully, I guess, the whole of New Zealand some lessons. One thing that the families have come to accept for some time is that all the wonderful words that come from Parliament mean nothing and all the best legislation means nothing unless it is implemented with some sound mind, with some practical implementation, and with a proper level of resourcing.

The bill is, as has been said by previous speakers, in three parts. It is a good piece of progressive legislation. It is not the answer to all health and safety in New Zealand. Indeed, we are going to have to do a lot from Parliament all the way down through the system, including resourcing, to ensure that we have better health and safety in this country across all industries, not just in mining. The reality is that we have an abysmal record. There are too many families—not just 29 from Pike River, but in fact tens and tens of families across this country—every year who lose their loved ones through workplace health and safety accidents. We each have a responsibility in Parliament here to do whatever we can to stop that.

In 1992 there was a naive piece of legislation passed, one that effectively relied on the market and on industry to implement the highest standards of health and safety that we expected—well, that we should expect in a First World country. All the testing and teasing and prodding of that legislation, the Health and Safety in Employment Act, over a number of years really did not give rise to any major change. I received a response from the Minister in 2010, prior to the terrible tragedy at Pike River, and I will quote it because it does reflect the attitude that prevailed from 1992 until 2010: “The legislation reflects the fact that employers”—whom I am talking about—“are in a good position to understand the hazards arising in the workplace and are best placed to take steps to control them.” Well, there is probably a lot of truth in that statement. The question was when they did not control them, what then? Unfortunately, that is what happened at Pike River. The risks were known to so many. The day-to-day deficiencies were known to the company, but action was not taken. So what this piece of legislation is doing in part is starting to bring back in a regulatory regime that will place clear impositions and responsibilities on employers, and employees too, to make sure that action is taken where risks are identified. The sad response that I got, which I read from time to time, is, hopefully, a response that no one should ever see from a Government Minister again.

We have had a number of inquiries—the royal commission—and we have had a long and agonising process for the families, and we have had some sound wisdom, lessons, and recommendations come from that process. As I say, the families should be comforted in some small way that their loss has not meant inaction. Their loss has not been wasted in any way on the collective wisdom that should be brought to Parliament. I acknowledge the Government for getting on with the job of changing legislation. But if you go to the proposals for reform coming from the summary document here, one of the things that was said is that “The Pike River tragedy was preventable but administrative and regulatory reforms are urgently needed to reduce the likelihood of further tragedies.” We are almost 3 years on. I would not call it urgent. It has taken some time. I acknowledge that the bill is here and that there is some other stuff to come before Parliament, but we have been told these things before, and it is the responsibility of any Government—at this point it is the National Government—to get on and do things in a more timely manner.

Dare I say, there are some lessons around forestry that we are hearing on a regular basis, and we have yet to see action in that area. This legislation will help but, actually, we will need more acute focus on forestry to prevent people being killed in that industry on a very regular basis. So the recommendations from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy must be applied across the board. Urgent action is required. I do not want to have to, as a parliamentarian, face any more families with comfort, with my sympathy, and with all the support I can offer but not with the replacement of their loved person who has been killed in a workplace accident.

The recommendations are sound and I am hoping that the Government keeps to them. The next proposal, which refers to the need for administrative reforms, says: “Oversight of health and safety planning should start early in the life cycle of a mining project.” There are mining projects proposed, in fact off Kaikōura, for example, deep-sea drilling, and we have got Bathurst Resources on the West Coast, and I need to be reassured that health and safety is right up alongside capital raising and basic environmental planning, because it is worthy of that first-line consideration. Unfortunately, what we saw was that everything else was planned for, and the lessons of Pike River are clear, but health and safety was just an add-on. It cannot be like that. Just as we have incorporated environmental planning into the first part of any mining project, any building project, and any economic project in this country, health and safety must be part of that as well.

I hope that the legislation, in the setting up of WorkSafe New Zealand, sets up an agency that is well resourced, that can check on every proposed project, and that can ensure that health and safety is part of the planning alongside capital and alongside environmental management. I hope that the Government follows through with the resourcing to ensure that happens.

The other two parts incorporated into the legislation to amend the 1992 Act take into account the unique aspects of mining and all underground operations and quarrying. I think that is essential and that has been widely acknowledged. Can I say that in Part 3 the setting up of Mines Rescue, or giving it more authority and more autonomy, and the need for more resources, is just as urgent. Some of the problems that occurred at Pike River at the time of the accident were because of uncertain authority through Mines Rescue. That cannot ever happen again. The people with the wisdom and the knowledge who are on the ground should be the ones making the decisions, not some person sitting on their chuff in Wellington, as happened with the Pike River tragedy. It would never have brought back the lives of those 29 men, but it is imperative upon each and every one of us that we support this legislation to make sure that prevention occurs at every step of the workplace operations, and that whenever an accident occurs, we have the right systems in place to deal with it.

KEVIN HAGUE (Green) : Can I begin by expressing my gratitude for the hard work of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee officials and officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, who supported the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee in our work. I thank all those who made submissions. I thank David Bennett, the chair of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, and I thank other committee members, especially for the trip the committee made to Greymouth to hear submissions. It was an arduous trip because of the circumstances on the day but it was one that I know my community particularly appreciated.

The Green Party will be supporting the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill at its second reading, but we are doing so disturbed by the failure of the Government to grasp in a wholehearted way the opportunity that existed to meet this challenge. As members know, I live close to the site of the Pike River mine, and I have been closely involved in the aftermath of the tragedy. I have had three main objectives: firstly, to recover the bodies of the 29 men who were killed in the disaster, if that is at all possible; secondly, to investigate and get to the bottom of what occurred or what caused that tragedy; and, thirdly, to improve the systems that we use in order that such tragedies can be avoided in the future, in so far as we are able to do that.

As Damien O’Connor said, as we sit here in the House today debating this bill a helicopter clatters over the mine site on the coast, doing the preparatory work to begin a recovery operation, finally, 3 long agonising years after the disaster occurred. We hope that it may be possible to recover at least some of the men. We hope also that it may be possible to recover some evidence to fill some of the gaps that still exist in our understanding of what exactly happened, what went wrong, and how that might be prevented in the future. I call on the House to consider what we owe those men and their families, and to live up to those responsibilities.

The royal commission of inquiry met its responsibilities, and it can be well satisfied with a truly excellent job. But what of us in this House? With the honourable exception of the brief period when the Hon Chris Finlayson acted as the Minister of Labour, the Government has dragged the chain, and, I believe, shamed the House at every point.

First of all, John Key tried to defend the Government’s performance on mine safety, saying that our standards were no less than those in Australia, and that our safety record was very good. All of the subsequent facts that have emerged have illustrated just how contemptibly wide of the mark those claims were, but typical of a Government whose first reaction to anything that goes wrong is the Bart Simpson - like “It wasn’t me. It’s not my fault. You can’t prove a thing.” Then, to restore the mines inspectorate to more than a pathetic capacity with a High Hazards Unit took literally months and months of determined pressure on the former Minister of Labour, even though that was a measure that had near unanimous endorsement from everyone except the Government.

The Government’s next stall was on the review of legislation and regulation, something else that should have been an absolute no-brainer. But to give Kate Wilkinson some credit, she did set up a genuine process and she did seek to inform and involve Opposition parties. I wonder now whether that is the reason for her demotion by John Key. She was too open to a genuine review of legislation and regulations in this area. I was certainly astonished when the Prime Minister, in response to my questions in the House, indicated that contrary to the conclusions of the royal commission and the Hon Chris Finlayson, he did not accept that deregulation had played a crucial role in creating the environment where the Pike River disaster could occur. In fact, the Prime Minister demonstrates his adherence to the same discredited neo-liberal agenda that caused the problem in the first place.

Experienced miners and mine safety experts warned—they were extremely clear at the time—that the Bill Birch and Max Bradford theory that the State should just leave private companies to get on with health and safety would lead to deaths in mine disasters, and they were right. The problem that the Government now has is that with 29 men lying dead in Pike River mine, it is hard for it to wriggle out of implementing the recommendations of either the royal commission or the health and safety task force, so instead we hear grand words about honour, but implementation falls short of what is really needed.

This is a Government that is still committed to the neo-liberal agenda. It is viscerally opposed to greater State control over the operation of private businesses, and it despises the idea of greater regulation or greater say for unions on behalf of working people. Working people are supposed to be just a labour input into the firm. That is what lies at the heart of the shortcomings of this bill. It does many good things but falls well short of what is required, and I have addressed some of the main points in my minority view in the select committee report.

For example, officials struggled to explain why a representative tripartite structure was not adopted for the board of WorkSafe New Zealand. I do not recall a single submission opposing it, and there were certainly plenty strongly endorsing it, from both unions and business leaders. It was recommended very strongly by the task force. Actually, the reason it is not in this bill has nothing to do with rational analysis of the submissions and everything to do with a Government that is strongly opposed to tripartism, with its implications of shared power and shared accountability with business and especially with working people.

This central flaw is compounded by giving the board powers that fall short of those recommended by the task force and fall short of giving WorkSafe adequate teeth to deal with employers who are not persuaded to meet their legal health and safety duties. Indeed, as I said in my minority view, the functions in this bill are a pretty good description of the way the Department of Labour mines inspectors went about their job at the time of the Pike River disaster, which resulted, of course, in catastrophic failure to detect and correct the many and glaring faults in the systems of Pike River Coal Ltd.

I am also deeply disturbed that the Government has caved in response to pressure from quarrying companies and narrowed the scope of operations covered by the reinstatement of the triangle of safety set out in Part 2 of the bill. For anyone who sat through the evidence heard by the royal commission or who has read the royal commission’s report, one of the clearest conclusions was that the disaster was not the result of a single risk factor; rather, the disaster occurred because multiple failings lined up on the day. Defences against harm in legislation, regulation, enforcement, company policy, company operating procedures, training, worker behaviour, equipment, and many other areas all contain the potential for error, and the disaster was the result of some combination of these. So to now take one single risk factor, the risk of explosion, and say that where this risk exists we will bolster safety systems with check inspectors, but in other analogous situations where that particular risk does not exist we are going to do nothing is a total failure to understand even the most basic conclusion from the royal commission.

In my first reading speech I quoted Bill Brazil, a mining safety expert, who said in 1995: “Furthermore the [Health and Safety in Employment] Act is being used as a manipulative device to eliminate management structures and many historically formed mining codes of practice that were firmly established in the heart of previous legislation, much of which has proved successful over 100 years. Should this situation be allowed to continue without intervention the end result can only be the escalation of potential for further disaster.” I would say that in the failures by this Government to wholeheartedly implement the recommendations of the royal commission and the task force, the Government instead aligns itself with those responsible for that fatal manipulation of health and safety law in the first place. The 29 men deserve better.

MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) : I just want to acknowledge the contributions of Damien O’Connor and Mr Little on the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill. Both are people with knowledge and experience in this area, and I appreciate the contributions they made to the House. I would just point out, though, that Mr O’Connor mentioned the 3 years that have passed since the Pike River disaster. It is a valid comment, but it would not have been sensible or, in fact, proper to put legislation in place before the royal commission of inquiry came out in October of last year. I think the Government certainly has moved to take heed of that inquiry. Indeed, we will still find out in the months and years to come what has come about as a result of the terrible Pike River disaster.

I also want to comment on what Mr O’Connor said, and as has been alluded to by others, that there was no one failing in this. The legacy of that disaster is threaded through this legislation, but, actually, in any workplace tragedy, looking back rearward, as we must do, it is important to identify a number of factors. Of course, a lot of those factors are human. A lot of those factors are outside control. Some of the factors are inside control. What I think this bill actually looks to do is put in place some of those hard lessons learnt, and not only honour those who lost their lives in that tragedy but also make sure that as many of those controllables as possible can be lined up and responded to. But I must stress that with this or any other matter, when it comes to the workplace, it will always be a collection of a number of factors that contribute to things going badly wrong. This bill is one part of a solution—an enduring part of a solution, I hope—but there are many others. I am happy to commend it to the House.

BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) : I stand on behalf of New Zealand First to support the second reading of the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill. We welcome the changes that this will make to our mining sector. We know that it is the start of change, and we look forward to further change throughout. Health and safety in a workplace is absolutely paramount. Every worker has the right to return home at the end of their working day, and to return home unharmed. We firmly believe that. In New Zealand First we agree, like every other party in the House, with much of the royal commission report on the Pike River tragedy, and we are happy to now see that many of the recommendations have been heard and are to be implemented. We must commend the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for the work it has done on this bill. We welcome the changes that have been suggested, and we look forward to the Committee stage, where the Minister of Labour has indicated that there will be further changes. Labour has also indicated that it has got some changes to suggest. We will look forward to reading those and considering those.

However, as I said in my first reading speech on this bill, we are very sad that it took such a devastating tragedy and 29 deaths to make the necessary changes to improve the health and safety regulations in the mining sector. We extend our thoughts and our sympathies again to the friends and families of those involved in the Pike River tragedy, and we look forward to this legislation, which will help to make improvements in order to minimise the occurrence of any such tragedy in the future. Of course, we realise that a bill can never, ever eliminate a tragedy of this nature from occurring again, but the focus on health and safety will be increased, and this will help with what is currently happening. The current position is totally unacceptable. We need to give workers a greater sense of safety in their own workplaces.

The WorkSafe New Zealand agency, which is going to be established under this bill, is a good step forward. We like how it has been absolutely listed in this particular bill how the board is to be made up—at least five members, and no more than nine—and the list of the criteria that the members of the board must have has been clearly outlined in the legislation. We do need to ensure that these people on the board are not party political and that it does follow these guidelines so that whenever there is a change of Government, there is not a total change of the WorkSafe board. So we were happy with that. We did have some concerns about the agency, but we are pleased that the recommendations have been clearly set out. We particularly support the recommendation to change the wording around WorkSafe’s main objectives in clause 9(1): “WorkSafe New Zealand’s main objective is to promote and contribute to securing the health and safety of workers and workplaces.” We believe that this is a step forward from the wording originally in this Bill. This means that this agency will take a stronger role in protecting the safety of workers, and that is absolutely essential. A sole Government agency of this nature ought to have centralised responsibility for ensuring responsible health and safety practices are undertaken, and these amendments actually underline that necessity.

The bill also provides amendments to the Health and Safety in Employment Act of 1992. The change will see clear, new mining regulations, such as processes for better managing hazards, increasing the minimum standards, requirements for health and safety standards, and strengthened training and competency requirements. I am very passionate about that latter requirement. The Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy focus on this was principally on underground mines. However, the changes in this bill will make it focus more on all of the mine operations, due to the particular hazards that they present. The royal commission saw a number of contributing factors to the Pike River mine disaster, and we have heard how there was a coming together of many different factors that resulted in this disaster.

The amendments of the committee have reduced the coverage of Part 2 of the bill, in line with the suggestion from the royal commission that this should be expanded rather than narrowed. We are also aware that unions have voiced their concerns around this issue. In New Zealand First we have always supported an increase in health and safety regulations for our workers, including broad coverage. Having read through the royal commission report, New Zealand First is inclined to agree that there were quite a number of safety issues that went unaddressed. Failures across a number of Government departments and sections of Pike River management contributed to this tragedy. To this end, New Zealand First believes that it would be counter-productive to identify any factor that resulted in the Pike River tragedy. We have welcomed the royal commission’s findings and now this bill, and the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee amendments, which, on the whole, greatly improve the bill.

Again, New Zealand First extends our utmost sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased. We will be supporting this bill to make a much-needed improvement to the mining sector, and we believe that it is a great step forward towards protecting the health and safety of our workers here in New Zealand.

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) : It is a great honour to speak on the second reading of this particular bill, the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill, coinciding, as it does, with the commencement yesterday of drift re-entry at Pike River. This omnibus bill enacts recommendations from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. It establishes WorkSafe New Zealand, a new workplace health and safety agency; it amends the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992; and it creates a new Mines Rescue Act 2013.

There are many physical memorials to those who lost their lives at Pike River. These memorials each express dignity, grief, remorse, and loss. I like to think that the effects of this bill, which incorporates the recommendations of the royal commission, will be as enduring as granite and as lasting as a carbon memorial. The implementation of this bill will bring us closer to ensuring that mining—risky, adventurous, profitable occupation that it is—will continue to be one of New Zealand’s economic building blocks, and not the stumbling block that some have perceived it to be. I commend this bill to the House. Thank you.

CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) : I am joining with the others in speaking on the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill in its second reading, and saying that of course Labour supports this bill, but we do so with some reservations. As my colleague Andrew Little has said, in the Committee stage we will be looking at a number of Supplementary Order Papers. Obviously, the purpose of this bill is absolutely to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, and, to a large extent, that is what is happening. That is appropriate and important. The main elements are the setting up of the new workplace health and safety agency, WorkSafe New Zealand; amending the Health and Safety in Employment Act to better manage hazards in the mining industry; and creating a new Mines Rescue Act, which will update the regime for how mine rescues are carried out.

I want to start by acknowledging the extent of the tragedy of 19 November 2010, when 29 workers lost their lives, and the ongoing suffering of their families. But also, as colleagues from the West Coast have noted, we are debating this bill at a time when work is now going on to try to re-enter the mine and to retrieve the bodies of those workers. I am sure that we all hope that that is a successful operation. This tragedy was huge, It was one of the worst health and safety tragedies we have had in this country. It is worth noting, as we debate this bill, that when people go to work, they should expect to return home safely and their families should expect that they will return home safely, even if they are working in dangerous industries like mining or quarrying. Legislation like this is important. Particularly in the legislation, the focus around worker participation in ensuring health and safety is absolutely fundamental. To that extent, it is really pleasing to see the emphasis on that, because in many ways, this tragedy was the result of deregulation, of failing to ensure that workers had strong voices around health and safety, and of failing to ensure that people who were contractors or subcontractors were involved in health and safety decisions.

By way of preliminary comments, I want to say that we should acknowledge those who have fought so hard to stand up for workers’ health and safety rights, and there are many people. Two I want to acknowledge in this contribution have both been presidents of the Council of Trade Unions: former president Ross Wilson, who devoted much of his working life to trying to progress health and safety rights, and the current president, Helen Kelly, who, I think, is doing an amazing job in drawing to this country’s attention the tragedy of what is going on in the forestry industry and how unsafe that industry is.

I was not on the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, which considered this bill, but in reading the report from the select committee, I think I was particularly interested in the comments around the contributions that the Pike River families made to the select committee. They expressed to the committee the inexperience and lack of training of the workers operating and monitoring sophisticated machinery, the use of unproven technology—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I am sorry to interrupt the honourable member. The time has come for me to leave the Chair for the dinner break.

  • Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

CAROL BEAUMONT: Before the dinner break, I was acknowledging the work of the select committee and talking particularly about how its members spoke in Greymouth with the Pike River families. I was noting that the key concerns expressed to the select committee by the families included the inexperience and lack of training of workers operating and monitoring sophisticated machinery, the use of unproven technology, a lack of communication and coordination, high staff turnover, and the adverse incentives and pressures engendered by remuneration arrangements in which bonuses featured predominantly.

I have to say that I think that is a very important part of the report, because, actually, health and safety happen in a context. They happen in a context of how work is organised. They happen in a context of whether or not there are workers who feel empowered to have their say. They happen in a context of the arrangements around people’s working time. I thought that that was a very important comment made by the Pike River families, and I want to acknowledge them for contributing that to the report. We can only hope that, in particular, the part of this bill that amends the Health and Safety in Employment Act and provides for greater worker participation will assist with some of the matters referred to by the Pike River families. I also would like to thank all of the people who submitted to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on this very important piece of legislation. There were 41 submissions made and there was oral evidence from 11, as well as, as I have just mentioned, from the representatives of the families of the 29 men who died in the Pike River disaster.

Essentially, we do support the bill, as I have said, which does implement some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, but we do have some reservations. This bill is a good start, but it also represents a missed opportunity to create a world-class health and safety regime for the most hazardous of work. In particular, we were concerned about the provisions in Part 1 of the bill that talk about setting up the board of WorkSafe New Zealand, in that the board does not necessarily capture the empowered tripartite arrangements that we would have liked to see, and that is actually what world-class health and safety requires. It does require people who represent the voice of Government and Government agencies, of employees, and of employers.

As it stands at the moment, the board is selected by the Minister of Labour, and clause 7 talks about selecting people with the “(d) perspectives of workers:” and “(da) perspectives of employers:”, but we are concerned that there is a weakness there. With health and safety, the change of culture that is required is fundamentally important, and in many ways—and I think even members opposite would acknowledge this—this requires a strong voice for the workers in any workplace to, first, get their buy-in, but, secondly, have their say on how the work is organised, on the things that put pressure on them, and on the things that would make a difference to their working lives and their ability to focus on health and safety issues. The functions of WorkSafe New Zealand are set out in clause 10 and are similar to, but are not, the recommended functions from the royal commission. There does not seem to be any good reason for departing from those recommendations, so we also just raise that as one of our concerns.

Part 2 of the bill is a very important part around worker representation, and what we are concerned about is why there has been a narrowing of this part. Why is it that instead of all of the original industries that were covered, it has been narrowed specifically to underground mining? We are concerned about that. It seems inappropriate and misses the point about what happened at Pike River, and we certainly do not think that that should have been narrowed in that way. But there are good things in this part of the legislation. Providing for both the workplace health and safety representatives and also the industry health and safety representatives, or the check inspectors, is important, and we are glad about that. One of the specific features in this part is that where there is not an agreed process around health and safety representatives, there is a default process that is to be determined. So at the moment that is unknown, and we are certainly concerned that that is a useful and meaningful process.

There has been a sense that this has not happened quickly enough and that there was a real urgency to fast tracking the implementation of the commission. Finally, can I say again that we support this bill with reservations, and we will look at Supplementary Order Papers in the Committee stage. Thank you.

Dr CAM CALDER (National) : I rise to speak on the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill, and I want to acknowledge the contributions made by all parties on the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of David Bennett. This is a poignant moment, as preliminary work is taking place in the area to enable safe entry into the drift.

This is an omnibus bill that, as we have heard, enacts the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. It establishes WorkSafe New Zealand, a new workplace health and safety agency; it amends the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992; and it creates a new Mines Rescue Act. In a strange way—and this was eloquently alluded to by my colleague Mr Chris Auchinvole—this legislation will be an enduring reminder of the disaster and, indirectly, a memorial to those whose lives were so tragically lost.

We are committed to improving workplace safety, so we have set a firm target of a 25 percent reduction in the rate of workplace fatalities and serious injuries by 2020. This is a significant step in the Government’s workplace health and safety reform programme. and I commend this bill to the House.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I understand that the next call is a split call. I call Darien Fenton—5 minutes.

DARIEN FENTON (Labour) : It is a pleasure to rise and speak in the second reading debate on the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill, and in my 5 minutes I want to address the three issues that the Labour Party continues to have concerns about. In doing so, I want to acknowledge the work of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee and, in particular, the families of Pike River, and I observe, of course, what is happening at Pike River at the moment.

We continue to be disappointed about the make-up of WorkSafe New Zealand’s board. Remember that this agency, WorkSafe, is not just for Pike River mines, or mining generally. WorkSafe will become the agency that is responsible for all health and safety throughout New Zealand. So there is more legislation to come in the future—apparently it is going to be introduced by the end of the year, and will cover health and safety for all workers. So WorkSafe is a completely new agency that will have responsibility for every worker’s health and safety, not just the health and safety of those who work in underground mines.

The issue about the board members was canvassed at length in the select committee, and what I found very interesting was that the National Party members could not seem to get their head around what “tripartite” means. In fact, it is the recommendation of WorkSafe New Zealand that the board be tripartite. “Tripartite” means that it is made up of representatives of employers, representatives of unions, and representatives of the Government—that is what it means.

National members could not get their heads around that. They were enormously suspicious. Although I acknowledge that there have been some changes to the wording in the make-up of the WorkSafe board—in clause 7(2)(d), it has gone from “perspectives of workplace participants”, which no one knew the meaning of, to “perspectives of workers”—it simply does not cut the mustard in terms of recommendations of the Pike River mine commission of inquiry. In fact, the health and safety task force has also recommended that WorkSafe be a tripartite board.

So we do not understand why the Government is ignoring the task force’s recommendation—it is not a good place to start. As I have said, WorkSafe is an agency that will set health and safety in place not only for underground mines and highly dangerous industries but for all workers. It is a completely new agency. It is the beginning of a new start for health and safety in New Zealand, which is entirely necessary given our awful record of health and safety. So it is a bad start, actually. It is a real shame, and I understand that my colleague Andrew Little will put forward an amendment during the Committee stage. Let us see whether we can get it right, for goodness’ sake. We all know that this has to be done. Let us do it right, and let us not be ideological about opposing the idea that we could actually have representatives of unions, employers, and the Government on a board.

The second issue is about the powers and functions of WorkSafe New Zealand. Again, although they are similar to the recommendations of the royal commission of inquiry and the task force, they are not the same. There are real issues about that. We do not understand why we went to the trouble of having a royal commission of inquiry and a health and safety task force if we are going to ignore the recommendations and all the work that went into that.

Finally, our other concern is the scope of this legislation—the fact that it started out having a wide application, including quarrying and some types of tunnelling. We believe that was appropriate, but along the way the scope has been narrowed so now it applies only to underground mines. That is significant. I think that has significantly undermined this legislation. Again, we will be putting forward some amendments during the Committee stage. As I said before about all of these things, let us get it right. Let us do this properly. We are all committed to it. We all believe that this has to be done. Let us get this right. Let us fix this up. Let us follow the task force’s recommendations.

DENISE ROCHE (Green) : I rise to take the call for the Greens on the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill. It is timely that this bill is in the House today, given that yesterday we saw the first stage of the recovery process to attempt to recover the bodies of the 29 men who were left in the Pike River mine after the dreadful explosion in 2010. The Greens took up the call for a commission of inquiry into the factors that led up to that dreadful explosion and that tragedy and this is where this legislation picks up. We note that this legislation, as it was introduced to the House, and, further, as it comes back from the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee today, does not pick up all the recommendations that came from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. Although we support this bill, we think that this bill could be strengthened and that those recommendations could certainly be picked up so that we have better health and safety in mines across Aotearoa New Zealand.

There are three particular areas that we are concerned about. One is the scope of the legislation. The bill as it has been reported back actually reduces the scope of the legislation, restricting how the legislation can be applied to various parts of the industry so that it applies only to underground mines. The justification for that, I believe, is that it is underground mines that carry a greater risk of explosions. But our view is that Part 2 of the bill should cover a wider sector of the industry. We do support, of course, the creation of the stand-alone agency WorkSafe New Zealand. We fully endorse that. However, we do have some concerns about the way its functions have been watered down. The legislation does not pick up on all the recommendations from the commission of inquiry about the functions. In fact, the functions of the agency as set out in the legislation, as it has been reported back, look scarily a lot like what those of the Department of Labour looked like, with the mine inspectorate there, before the Pike River tragedy. The legislation says, for example, that mine inspectors will work alongside mine operators and encourage good health and safety practices, but we know from what happened at Pike River that that was not enough to stop the mine operator cutting corners. Encouraging mine operators is all very well, but you need very strong regulation and enforcement of regulation in order to improve health and safety in the workforce when there are strong financial imperatives to cut corners.

This takes me to the third point, which is the make-up of the board of WorkSafe New Zealand. In Australia and other countries with good health and safety records a tripartite situation or a tripartite conversation is what is needed in order to provide best practice and a trusting relationship for health and safety regulations. That was the recommendation from the royal commission of inquiry as well. It suggested that the Government, employers, and workers—in this case, union representatives—appoint their own representatives to work together to develop good health and safety practices. The legislation, as it comes back to the House, says only that the Minister will make the appointments and that they will have regard to those areas. That does not necessarily build a trusting environment in which to create really good health and safety practices. So it is the Green Party’s view that we should follow the task force’s recommendation that we need our workers to have a voice around this, because they are the ones with their eyes on the job. They are the ones who need to be able to speak up.

This legislation, although it is very well intentioned, needs to be, I believe, beefed up. We should certainly not be introducing the amendments in the Employment Relations Act, which are going to mean that workers have less of a voice in the workplace. We will be supporting the bill.

SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) : I am pleased to speak briefly to the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill here on its second reading. I want to acknowledge, as I think others in the House have, the work of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. I think all of us were very aware of the context in which this bill has come about and the hard work that has resulted in this bill as it progresses to bring about the recommendations of the royal commission. One of my National Party colleagues said earlier that this bill is in some ways an indirect memorial, so I do not intend to say any more than to acknowledge, of course, the passing of those 29 men, and ask that this bill pass in their honour too.

  • Amendments recommended by the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee by majority agreed to.
  • Bill read a second time.