What is being done for workers' rights after Helen Kelly?

It's been exactly a year since union representative Helen Kelly died, and New Zealand is remembering her as an strong advocate for workplace relations.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue and lawyer Hazel Armstrong all told The Nation on Saturday there has been little improvement in workplace health and safety since Ms Kelly's death.

Regarding the farm and forestry industries, Ms Armstrong said the "foot went off the neck" after Ms Kelly's death.

In 2017 there have been five forestry deaths, already more than 2016's four deaths.

Mr Wagstaff said for every person killed there are seven badly injured.

"Helen put the spotlight on a record that we have, that we were just sort of cruising along with and not really addressing it hard enough."

The panellists agreed the forestry and farming industries are poorly regulated, and do not provide opportunities for workers to discuss their concerns.  

Ms Armstrong blames the "fiercely independent" nature of farming, with farmers resistant to Government regulation, despite the high rate of workplace accidents.

As for forestry, Dr Blue said "they have very low rates of unionisation, they don't have anyone speaking for them, there's no voice for forestry workers".

"I listened to an interview Helen did a year before she died, she got to know the forestry workers, and once they understood the concept of a union they wanted to be part of one."

Mr Wagstaff believes low union membership prevents people speaking out.

"There's really no opportunity for these workers to push back and say, 'It's not safe here… We need to just not focus on production and we need to put a bit more focus on the workforce,' but there is no real voice in those workplaces."

Ms Armstrong says forestry contracts don't guarantee safe working conditions, safe hours, temperatures for work or limits on fatigue. 

She travelled to British Columbia in Canada, and found their contracts do - due to the strength of their unions.