According to new statistics from the Department of Labour:
- Workplace injuries are killing about 100 people
- More than 700 people die prematurely from work-related illness or disease
- More than 200,000 people are seriously harmed (this corresponds to 12 injuries for every 100 workers)1
- There are more than 17,000 new cases of work-related disease, with between 2,500 – 5,500 classed as severe
- Construction, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and fishing consistently have above average fatal and major injury rates – accounting for approximately 37% of all ACC claims.2
Of those 200,000 serious injuries
- The manufacturing sector has the highest number of work-related injuries
- The highest injury-incidence rates are in the mining industry, construction industry, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sector
- Sprains and strains are by far the most frequent injury (90,000 claims), followed by open wounds (37,000 claims)
- An estimated 50% of injuries result in impairment, and 6% in permanent impairment.3
Death or injury on the worksite has been a constant battle between workers and bosses. This has existed going back to the first developments of capitalism in New Zealand, where a group of Bay of Islands Maori in 1821 staged the first strike, demanding “for their labour in money as was the case in England, or else in gunpowder.” or Samuel Parnell, a carpenter who on arrival in New Zealand in 1840 refused to work longer than an eight hour day.4
Helen Kelly, the head of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is quoted in a stuff.co.nz article calling for a registry of all workplace related deaths, injuries or illnesses.1 In a similar vein the Department of Labour has developed a working group to address the situation and provide more information and research on the issue. The membership of this working group of 11 include 3 union representatives, 4 business representatives and 4 from local or central government.2
Helen Kelly is also quoted as saying “Look at Pike River – the workers were going to bed with headaches because there wasn’t enough oxygen in the mine.” This is the problem here. Even when life-threatening situations are clear and obvious, complaints might be laid at best, or at worst (and much more usually) the workers are forced to work anyway. More information is not the issue, the will to act, the will to strike and shut down unsafe businesses is the quickest and most effective way to sort out unsafe workplaces and save some of the 1000’s who have needlessly died as cogs in the capitalist profit machine.
What is important with the early examples of struggles for conditions as well as those of the Waterside Workers Union during the 1940-50’s and UNITE union in the 21st century, is that these things are not given easily, they are won through struggle.
The history of institutions like the Accident Compensation Corporation have been forced into creation in response to mass-struggles by workers. It is no coincidence that ACC was formed in 1974 at a point when workers struggles were reaching a height and that in 2011 at a time when workers struggles are so low, that Pike River can happen, with the full knowledge of the danger present the ruling National Party is moving ahead with plans to partially-privatise ACC, something recognised as being more expensive to workers and also more likely to cause further deaths and injuries.34
While capitalism and bosses run things, workers will always be fighting rearguard actions to defend or extend their conditions, as distant a possibility as that might be right now, the clear and present need is for workers take democratic control of the economy and their places of work, so those at the coalface actually have ability to make their work as safe as possible, as opposed to as profitable as possible.
Liz Ross, Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win: Builders Labourers Fight Deregistration 1981-1994
Tom Bramble, Never a White Flag: The Memoirs of Jock Barnes
Dick Scott, 151 Days