White crosses protest safety changes

  • 26/07/2015

By Sarah Robson

A woman who lost her husband in a forestry accident in 2009 wants the Government to take stronger action to ensure people are safe at work.

Deborah McMillan held a silent vigil outside the National Party's annual conference in Auckland this morning.

She set up 291 white crosses on the street outside the SkyCity convention centre - each one representing a person who has died at work since the 2010 Pike River mine disaster.

"We've had 10 Pike Rivers since John Key promised to improve work safety laws in 2010," Ms McMillan said.

"Not only has he broken his promise, he wants to make it worse."

The Government promised a shake-up of health and safety laws in the aftermath of Pike River, where 29 men were killed in underground explosions.

After a six-week delay, a parliamentary select committee on Friday reported back on the proposed law reforms and recommended a number of changes, which the Government has agreed to.

During the select committee process, National Party MPs fielded negative feedback from farmers and small business owners, who fearer the new regime would saddle them with unnecessary costs and legal obligations.

The changes weaken requirements on small businesses to appoint health and safety representatives and Labour has subsequently withdrawn its support for the bill.

Ms McMillan said she is disappointed with the changes and she's committed to working to strengthen health and safety laws.

"No family should have to go through what we did. It's been horrible."

Prime Minister John Key told reporters the Government takes the issue seriously.

"We accept there have been too many people who have died in the workplace and I think in terms of the health and safety law reform, we tried desperately to get the right balance," he said.

"I do think as a result of the legislation the workplace in New Zealand will be safer."

The Government had hoped to get the law changes would come into effect by the end of this year, but that's now more likely to be next year.