Victims' families appeal for stronger safety laws

  • 19/08/2015
Twenty-nine miners lost their lives in the Pike River tragedy
Twenty-nine miners lost their lives in the Pike River tragedy

By Peter Wilson and Sarah Robson

The families of workplace accident victims have made emotional appeals for stronger safety laws as Parliament prepares to debate the Government's controversial reforms.

They're upset because the Health and Safety Reform Bill has been weakened since it was introduced, and they're letting MPs know.

Anne Osborne, whose husband Milton Osborne died in the Pike River mine disaster, says inadequate safety laws cost him his life.

"These watered-down health and safety regulations are a slap in the face for me, the families of the 29 men who died at Pike River, and all New Zealand workers," she said at a meeting in Parliament on Tuesday night.

"In the name of common decency and fair play, I urge you to strengthen the Bill."

Bernie Monk, who lost a son and is the spokesman for the Pike River families, said no one was ever held accountable for the 2010 disaster.

"Time and time again the workers of Pike River went to the authorities and said there were things wrong," he said.

"They put it in writing, the Department of Labour knew things were wrong. They murdered our men."

MPs from Labour, the Greens, NZ First and the Maori Party attended the meeting.

Earlier on Tuesday Prime Minister John Key defended the Government's record.

"This government has done more for worker safety than any government in the history of New Zealand," he said.

"Obviously I completely understand the pain and anguish they feel... but it's critically important that we pass legislation that's practical."

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse says he'll clear up one contentious issue before the committee stage debate starts today, or soon after that.

He's going to table documents specifying which industries are high-risk and will be covered by the strongest safety regimes in the Bill.

The Bill was changed following complaints to National Party MPs from small businesses and farmers who thought it would saddle them with unnecessary costs and legal obligations.

The Government says it has "struck the right balance" but Opposition parties say the legislation has been seriously weakened.

One of their main complaints is that the bill now makes it voluntary for low-risk businesses with fewer than 20 employees to have elected health and safety representatives.

The previous intention was that all businesses should have them.