30 Jul 2015

Families take safety fight to Parliament

2:11 pm on 30 July 2015

The families of two men who died in the Pike River mine disaster have taken their fight for workplace safety to Parliament.

The site of Pike River Mine

The site of Pike River Mine. Photo: SUPPLIED

They held a silent vigil to mark the upcoming second reading of the Government's Health and Safety Reform Bill.

The bill was written in the wake of the Royal Commission on the disaster at the Pike River mine in 2010, when a series of explosions killed 29 men.

Last night, the steps of Parliament were dotted with 291 crosses and candles, acknowledging the number of workplace deaths in the five years since disaster at the underground coal mine on the West Coast.

Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her 21-year-old son Ben in the explosions, said promises were made after the Royal Commission to strengthen workplace safety but were not kept.

"The way that the laws stand at the moment, this [Pike River] could happen again," she said.

"They need to look at the health and safety laws very carefully and they need to toughen them up and if people don't like it - then that's too bad. What value do you put on life?"

Mrs Rockhouse said it was unacceptable that small businesses would be exempt from having elected health and safety representatives.

"Small companies have just as many accidents as what bigger companies do ... everybody needs to have the same health and safety law to abide by."

Anna Osborne, who lost her husband Milton in the mine explosion, said the Government could not keep ignoring their pleas for tougher laws.

"It's actually really heartbreaking - what price do they put on a life in New Zealand? Why water down something that is so important?

"It proves to me that John Key doesn't care about the little man in New Zealand."

Deborah McMillan and her daughter Skylar, 8. Her husband Shane McMillan was killed in a forestry accident in 2009

Deborah McMillan and her daughter Skylar, held a vigil outside the National Party's annual conference in Auckland on Sunday morning. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

The pair were joined by Deborah McMillan whose husband Shane was killed in a workplace forestry accident in 2009.

She staged her own vigil on Sunday outside the National Party's annual conference in Auckland.

"They realise that we're not going to go away and that change needs to be made," said Mrs McMillan.

"We want them to hear us in that everybody deserves to come home at the end of the day."

The health and safety reform bill is due to have its second reading in Parliament today.

Time to listen to families - Labour

Labours spokesperson for labour issues Iain Lees-Galloway said it was time to listen to workplace victims' families.

"The bill as it is written right now is a huge missed opportunity and it's extremely sad because it's a broken promise to the families of the victims of Pike River, who John Key told he would do everything he could to make workplaces safer."

Mr Lees-Galloway said the bill as it stood would weaken the role of health and safety representatives in businesses.

"All the evidence shows the best way to improve workplace safety is to give workers access to trained health and safety representatives. However, this bill in its current form will deny that right to more than 300,000 workers."

He said Labour would put forward several amendments in this afternoon's debate, which some of the Pike River families would attend.

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