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Workplaces to become safer and healthier.

FROM MAY 5 this year, employees throughout New Zealand will have a new law to promote safer and healthier workplaces. The Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Act builds on the previous Act and strengthens employees' rights to have a say in ensuring their workplaces are safe.

The most significant changes the new law has for NZNO members are twofold. It clarifies the responsibilities of employers and employees in the workplace, and, more importantly, it requires employers to allow union members to participate in health and safety issues. Research from around the world shows when workers and their unions are actively involved in health and safety, fewer workers are injured and fewer workers die. That's what NZNO's and other unions' campaigns are all about.

Section 19(B) of the Act states that "every employer must provide reasonable opportunities for the employees to participate effectively in ongoing processes for improvement of health and safety in the employees' place of work". This requirement is backed up by access to compliance orders and fines if the employer does not meet this "duty" under the Act.

The right to employee participation includes workers being involved in processes for hazard identification; elimination, isolation or minimisation of hazards whichever is appropriate; information on results of monitoring and other relevant health and safety information; training for employees; and the election of health and safety representatives.

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has identified the election of 10,000 union health and safety representatives as a key campaign this year, in accordance with the provisions in the new Act. According to the CTU, international research has shown that worker participation is the key to effective injury prevention and health protection strategies in the workplace.

NZNO, as a major health union and CTU affiliate, is committed to the CTU campaign and has agreed to mobilise our staff, delegates and members in the campaign. Phase one, which will extend from now until December, will focus on electing representatives in each workplace throughout the country where there are 30 or more employees and ensuring they receive the initial two days' paid training. However, if you work in a smaller workplace and are motivated to get an elected representative, contact your local union organiser for support. In phase two, we will formally engage with members and employers in smaller workplaces. Small workplaces need health and safety representatives just as much as large ones.

Your organiser will be meeting with you and your employer to agree on the election process in your workplace and the structure of your health and safety committee. Elections must be by secret ballot if there is more than one candidate for any position and elected representatives have a minimum two-year term.

Being an elected representative is a very important role and it carries with it significant powers. For example, trained health and safety representatives can issue hazard notices to employers if agreement cannot be reached on resolving a problem. They can also advise employees to refuse work on the basis that the work, if undertaken, may cause serious harm.

The role also carries the responsibility of representing other NZNO members in the workplace on health and safety issues. This is an essential function for elected representatives and assists the union in being confident our members are working in safe environments.

NZNO will require over 500 committed members to put themselves forward to be representatives if the campaign is to succeed. Having health and safety representatives elected and trained is the starting place for an effective and participatory workplace, and health and safety initiatives and improvements for workers.

--Report by NZNO industrial adviser Carolyn Payne-Harker
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Title Annotation:news and events
Author:Payne-Harker, Carolyn
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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