28 Apr 2014

Silent march for forestry dead

11:17 pm on 28 April 2014

A beating drum and an empty coffin led a silent procession of about 200 people to parliament on Monday to highlight the number of worker deaths in the foresty industry last year.

Families and colleagues of forestry workers killed at work protest at Parliament.

Families and colleagues of forestry workers killed at work protest at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Eleven people were killed at work in 2013, and family members are calling on the government to regulate the industry to make it safer for future workers.

The widow of one of those killed, Maryanne Butler-Finlay, said walking behind the coffin brought back memories of the funeral for her husband, Charles Finlay, who died nine months ago.

She said she had mixed feelings about marching but was determined to speak out on behalf of her son and twin daughters who had lost their father.

"My voice has got to be heard," she said. "Although there's going to be tears and we're going to want to hide away on different occasions, we're here to stay and we will make noise and we will get change."

Ms Butler-Finlay said her husband was pressured to meet unrealistic targets and the government needed to step in to prevent any more deaths.

Valda Tahere's brother, George Mahanga, died in March, 2012.

Ms Tahere said her ancestors have lived off the forest for generations but she is worried the industry is too dangerous for her children to work in.

"I have three boys of my own and we will still continue to have our sons work in the forest in the future, so today I'm here to represent my brother and make some change."

The Council of Trade Unions president, Helen Kelly, told the protestors the workers who died paid the price for a deregulated health and safety system.

"The five most dangerous industries have virtually no union organisation at all, no work rights, are largely contracted by major companies to much smaller companies who are squeezed over price. It is no coincidence that they are the most dangerous industries and it has to stop."

The Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, said the industry was unsafe and new regulations were likely to be introduced after the election, following consultation with the sector.