If it had not been for the outcry from families losing loved ones, significant union pressure, and good media coverage, we would still be burying forestry workers, unaware of the growing callous disregard for human life within the industry.
In two earlier posts New Zealand Forestry Industry out of control (Dec 2013) and more recently New Zealand Forestry and Market Madness we outlined the human cost of a mismanaged industry sector, recording 10 fatalities in 2013, and the impact market investment strategies have had on the management of human resources within the industry.
At the same time, this is an industry that ignored its responsibilities to forestry workers and acceptable standards of safety – an industry that lost its capacity for self-regulation, requiring serious intervention to bring a halt to further unnecessary loss of life.
The intervention in its immediate requirements has been successful; there has not been a fatality for 5 months and there is an independent investigation looking for ongoing solutions to the overall rate of injury, which remains a concern.
Why did it take so long to react?
There is a detailed article here death stalks the forest outlining the working environment in which these accidents were taking place, and it remains a good question, why?
One of the leading proponents in the call for change has been Helen Kelly, president of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) who more recently has questioned the threshold of prosecutions for accidents.
The CTU has looked specifically at fatality cases in 2013, where forestry companies have not been prosecuted for the death of a worker. The CTU has been successful in an application to launch a prosecution in the case of Eramiha Pairama (19) who was struck by a falling tree in an accident near Whakatane in January of that year.
A recently established Workers Memorial Fund has been launched to assist families to take legal action.
Pairama’s case will in essence be a test case determining whether our safety watchdog could have brought about change sooner had it been more vigilant in its approach to worker safety and the level of prosecutions.
This, and other such cases the CTU may bring to court, will become a valuable insight into how these New Zealand men where allowed to be treated so badly in a ‘civilised’ country with ‘modern working conditions’.