Workers in small and lower-risk businesses will have greater choice about how they are represented on health and safety matters, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood has announced.
“Our Government is committed to supporting New Zealanders to feel safe when at work. Today I can confirm that we intend to deliver on our 2020 election promise to strengthen the role of worker representation in health and safety issues,” Michael Wood said.
“We intend to progress changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 so that when a worker in a business asks for health and safety representatives, the business will need to initiate an election.
“Health and safety representatives play an important role, acting as the conduit between the frontline and management to help drive pragmatic changes in the workplace that benefit everyone.
“Currently, small businesses in lower-risk sectors can refuse a worker’s request for a health and safety representative. These workers have less choice about how they are represented on health and safety matters than workers in larger or higher-risk businesses.
“Health and safety representatives can also have a vital influence on workers, creating meaningful engagement and participation. And most of all, as these roles are designed to drive change, this demonstrates the care they have for their peers and for creating more productive workplaces.
“Having good worker engagement, participation and representation is a core foundation of our health and safety system and an important duty on all businesses. This requires a culture where leaders listen with a view to being influenced, workers understand their rights and are able to influence decisions, and all layers of an organisation are clear about their health and safety accountabilities.
“I’m confident that this mahi, alongside other work underway in the wider health and safety system, will make a difference. New Zealanders deserve to come home safely from work,” Michael Wood said.
The Bill is expected to be introduced by the end of 2022.
The Bill will not make health and safety representatives mandatory for businesses. Businesses will only be required to initiate an election where workers request them, and workers may prefer to engage in less formal ways such as through regular health and safety meetings.
The Bill will also propose changes to health and safety committees so that if 5 workers, or a health and safety representative, ask for a health and safety committee, a business will need to form a committee.
Health and safety committees are another important form of worker representation and participation where worker choice is currently limited because businesses do not have to agree to a request to set them up.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), a business must support its workers in their role as health and safety representatives.