Guest Post: Health and safety critics barking up the wrong tree

March 30th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Michael Woodhouse, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety:

News flash on health and safety – kids can still climb trees!

Recent reports that children at a Wairarapa primary school will no longer be able to climb trees because of fears the school could be fined is an example of ridiculous overreaction to the new the Health and Safety at Work Act, due to come into force on Monday 4 April. Readers can be sure that the overreaction is a result of misinformation, which has led to school principals talking of irrational responses like above. The legislation simply does not prevent any such activities. But there appears to be a few Chicken Lickens in the form of health and safety advisers who are drumming up fear as a business tactic. This is unfortunate, unhelpful and just plain untrue.

It is of course true that schools have a responsibility to take practical steps to keep their staff, students and other visitors to the school safe. This is nothing new. The current Health and Safety in Employment Act requires it. The concerns about the potential for fines of up to $600,000 overlooks that fact that they can currently be fined $500,000. The new fine is lower in real terms than it was under the previous 23 year old legislation. It is also for the most reckless breaches of the Act.  A child falling out of a tree doesn’t come close!

So kids can continue to climb trees, play games in the school yard, go on adventure activities, trips to the beach, school camps and any number of other things schools do. What the staff are required to do is take a sensible approach to identifying hazards and risks and ensuring they are managed. Cotton wool and bans on tree climbing aren’t necessary or appropriate.

What will the Act mean for employers and business? Well, for those who already have sound and sensible health and safety practices, not a lot.  This isn’t a one-size fits all approach to the legislation. The Act is designed to target risk proportionately.  Businesses should be aware of their risks and take reasonably practicable steps to minimise or eliminate them. For higher risk activities like mining, quarrying, risky manufacturing and so on there will be a greater focus on risks. There are also changes to responsibilities for others in the workplace.  Many workplaces have a variety of entities working side by side (in the Act they are known as Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking, or PCBUs), and they need to work together to ensure not only their staff but staff of other PCBUs are kept safe from harm.  PCBUs just need to coordinate, consult, cooperate and coordinate to ensure everyone is safe.  A good example of PCBUs working together would be a construction site which may have a plethora of PCBUs working together, from the main contractor to sub-traders, project managers, architects, quantity surveyors and traffic controllers.  All are separate businesses but all are exposed to similar risks.  Effective communication is key.

Another myth being perpetuated is that somehow sports clubs and voluntary organisations will be wrapped in more red tape resulting in people withdrawing from volunteering or holding sports events. Again this is nonsense. The Act has adopted exactly the same legal framework that existed under the previous law for voluntary associations. The Government was clear that the current framework was managing risk adequately and transferred it into the new regime.

It is important that everyone – workers, managers, the self-employed and directors alike – need to understand what the Act means for them and take steps to comply with it, but for low risk organisations such as schools there is little change. I am also working with WorkSafe New Zealand to ensure that they take an educative approach in the early stages of the new Act. We are just at the start of the process and engaging with business rather than being heavy handed will be the key to its success. This is particularly important as governments can change all the rules and regulations they like but unless we can change people’s behaviours and attitudes to health and safety we won’t make the step change required to ensure reduced serious harm and death at work.

Woodhouse on zero hour contracts

July 13th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Michael Woodhouse has announced:

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse today announced a package of measures to prevent unfair employment practices such as ‘zero-hour contracts’.

“New Zealand has a well-functioning labour market in general and our employment relations framework aims to strike the right balance between flexibility and certainty,” says Mr Woodhouse.

“However there are some practices that I believe are unnecessary and unacceptable for modern working arrangements.

“For example, zero-hour contracts refers to employment arrangements, including permanent, where the employer does not guarantee any hours of work, yet requires employees to be available.  This is unfair and makes it difficult for employees to plan their financial and personal lives.”

It is vital that it is only the double standard situation which is covered, not all contracts with no guaranteed hours.If like some on the left you say no contracts at all should have no minimum hours, then you are abolishing every casual job in New Zealand.

As I have consistently said, I don’t think it is fair to require employees to be available for work, when the employer won’t guarantee any set hours.

The proposed changes will prohibit unfair practices including:

  • employers not committing any hours of work, but expecting employees to be available when required

  • employers cancelling a shift without providing reasonable notice or compensation to the employee

  • employers putting unreasonable restrictions on secondary employment of employees

  • employers making unreasonable deductions from employees’ wages.

These seem reasonable to me. I’m not sure there is a wide-spread problem in any of these areas – but there have been some cases where employers have acted badly – such as docking wages of petrol station attendants if someone drives off without paying. This is probably illegal under current law, but the bill being introduced will make it beyond doubt.

Caption Contest

February 27th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar


Photo taken at O Week at Otago. As always captions should be funny, not nasty.

A confused article

February 17th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government is set to tighten up the rules around zero-hour contracts – the casual employment agreements that saw petrol station workers docked wages after customers drove off.

This article conflates two separate issues. Zero hours contracts and if an employer can deduct wages for staff actions or inactions which cause a loss. The latter issue could occur no matter how many hours you are contracted for, and it is misleading to conflate the issues.

I think deducting wages of petrol station workers for drive offs is wrong, and illegal in many cases.

It comes as a union campaign to outlaw the controversial contracts – which are widely used in the fast-food and service industries – gathers a head of steam.

The terms mean staff work and get paid only when they are needed and often at short notice. Shifts can be cancelled, without reimbursement for travel or other costs. Holiday, sick pay and other employment rights are not guaranteed and in some cases employees are penalised for losses.

Again this is wrong. The article lumps together a number of what you may call employment abuses and calls them zero hours contracts. This is useful to Labour and the unions who have a campaign against them, but it is again misleading.

Zero hour contracts do mean staff only get paid when needed and can be cancelled at short notice. But it does not mean holiday pay is not guaranteed – that is an absolute right. It also has nothing to do with penalising employees for losses. That is a separate issue.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said he was motivated to act after it emerged Gull service station managers had billed staff when customers fled without paying for their fuel.

He has asked officials to look at a ban on practices “where there is no quid-pro-quo in the employment relationship”. It will form part of an ongoing review of employment standards that began last year.

Billing staff for drive offs is wrong and exploitative and may already be illegal. It is good the Government is looking into the law around that.

However, it is unlikely the Government will go as far as outlawing zero-hours contracts – because they suit students, part-time parents and the semi-retired. He rejected the ‘Certainty at Work’ legislation proposed by Labour last week, saying it was “blunt and unsophisticated and would make things worse for the workers”.

It could effectively be a ban on all casual work, which would devastate many employees and employers. As the article says, zero hours contracts suit many students who don’t want fixed hours.

My view is that zero hour contracts are absolutely fine – however if the employer does not guarantee a minimum number of hours, then the employee can’t be forced to work any particular hours – ie the employer has to persuade staff to work a particular shift – rather than just force them on, with no reciprocal obligation of minimum hours.

Kelly says current employment laws only provide for fixed-term or permanent employment.

“If someone is fixed term they have to be employed on genuine grounds. We think most casual employment is already illegal, it just requires enforcement.

So the CTU and their parliamentary wing want to abolish casual work. Nice.

Another mistaken relative claim by an MP

May 21st, 2014 at 8:55 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Woodhouse has upset an Otago family by wrongly claiming Trooper Frank Woodhouse, who died in Gallipoli aged just 20, was his great uncle.

Woodhouse told a reporter while he was in Turkey for the 99th anniversary of the Anzac landings last month that he had seen the name on a memorial there and after checking online found it was his great uncle.

But a spokesman for the aggrieved family, Gareth Woodhouse, said the man was his great uncle, not the minister’s. The family had his medals, a letter from the King about his service, and the original of a picture now on the Auckland Cenotaph website.

He had sent a “long, pointed” email to Michael Woodhouse about his claim and he had come back with a “semi-apology”.

Gareth Woodhouse said he had not done an exact genealogy, but Frank was the brother of his grandfather Cecil, who just before he died had told him about Frank.

He said Woodhouse was a minister of the Crown and Veterans’ affairs minister. “The family feels Michael Woodhouse should have done more research before making claims to the media about Frank Woodhouse.”

And he should have. While there could well be a relationship there, you shouldn’t claim a specific relationship such as great uncle when it is wrong.

Vote Chat with Michael Woodhouse

May 11th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The latest Otago University Vote Chat, with Michael Woodhouse.

Profiles of new Ministers

January 26th, 2013 at 4:42 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young at the Herald profiles new Minister Michael Woodhouse:

He avoided scandals and soapboxes in his first term as an MP, and has spent all of his second term in the highly demanding and important job of Chief Government Whip.

But to parliamentary inmates, his promotion came as no surprise.

From the moment he arrived in 2008 with a large cohort of new arrivals he was earmarked for higher office.

Yep – few are surprised that “Woody” is a Minister. He has always been well regarded.

When the new National Government launched into its contentious ACC reforms, Mr Woodhouse made a strong impression as confident, articulate and knowledgeable advocate of the policy, much more so than more experienced MPs.

In the second term he was destined to get a select committee chairmanship or a whip’s role – both are considered stepping stones to ministerial appointment, but more so a whip. Plenty of select committee chairs don’t make ministers. But almost all senior whips do.

Whips have to manage the back bench and ensure that the Government doesn’t lose any votes.

They also have to make sure there is an objection or vote against any attempt by an Opposition MP to delay things. I recall when a previous whip failed to object to leave to debate Steven Joyce’s academic record, and the House ended up spending a couple of hours on that!

Just before entering Parliament Mr Woodhouse was chief executive officer of Mercy Hospital in Dunedin.

He was born and raised in Dunedin in a large Labour-supporting Catholic family, the fifth of nine children.

In his maiden speech he made mention of the story of the Sisters of Mercy and their founder, Irish nun Catherine McAuley, which he said “inspires and challenges me and forms the basis of my leadership ethos”.

He may be one of the first Dunedin MPs to claim he has both blue (National colours) and gold running through his veins.

He spoke of his gold-mining forebears, his great-great-grandfather James Woodhouse, who emigrated from Lancashire and in 1862 discovered gold at the junction of the Teviot and Clutha rivers near Roxburgh.

“No great wealth was passed down, however, as he purchased the Bannockburn Hotel and fathered eight children.”

I was at that hotel a few weeks ago!! A lovely place to have a drink in the sun.

Mr Woodhouse will take up the responsibilities of Immigration, Veterans Affairs and Associate Transport, the latter traditionally beingthe minister responsible for road safety.

As Immigration Minister he will be responsible for policy and not for the painstaking work of sifting through individual cases pleading for a discretionary ministerial decision.

That will be done by Ms Kaye in her new role as Associate Immigration Minister

Michael has the better side of that portfolio. A former Minister commented that most minister’s weekly papers come in boxes, while the Associate Immigration Minister usually gets a trolley!

Mr Woodhouse is the first Dunedin-based National Party minister.

About time!

The other new minister, Nikki Kaye, is profiled by Andrea Vance in Stuff:

National was looking to inject some youthful energy into its frontbench team. It chose Nikki Kaye, who is preparing to run, cycle and kayak 243 kilometres.

The rise and rise of Nikki Kaye has been well canvassed. Even the most casual of political observers could have picked her promotion to minister this week – although a fast-track straight into the Cabinet is an extra gold star.

Nikki is the youngest female minister National has had.

The next few weeks will be spent getting to grips with her new portfolios: food safety, civil defence and youth affairs. Associate immigration – where many of the operational issues are delegated – also brings a heavy workload. She also promises not to neglect her constituency. Despite months of training, a busy ministerial diary may force her to pull out of the Coast to Coast, although she’s anxious to compete. She has learnt to make time for family. “The last four years, it’s been 6 – day weeks. I don’t really expect that to slow down. In the last year I’ve got more of a personal balance. . . .

Nikki has only two speeds. Running and running faster 🙂

Key kept that close to his chest

January 22nd, 2013 at 12:20 pm by David Farrar

Well John Key managed to surprise me and most other people, and has done a quite significant reshuffle, with a substantial rejuvenation of the Ministry.

Those leaving the Ministry are:

  • David Carter to become Speaker
  • Kate Wilkinson
  • Phil Heatley

Kate and Phil have performed well in their portfolios, and their departures are not sackings. It is simply the reality I talked about this morning that you need rejuvenation.

Promoted direct into Cabinet is Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye who has become Minister of Food Safety, Civil Defence and Youth Affairs and Associate Minister of Education and Immigration. She will be the youngest female Minister in National’s history.

Senior Whip Michael Woodhouse becomes a Minister outside Cabinet as Minister of Immigration, Veterans’ Affairs and Associate Transport.

Simon Bridges moves into Cabinet from outside and gets more grunty portfolios of Labour and Energy.

Oh and as expected Nick Smith moves back into Cabinet as Housing and Conservation Minister. Paula Bennett is made Associate Housing.

Nathan Guy as expected gets Primary Industries and Jo Goodhew Associate.

Chris Tremain pciks up Local Government Minister.

And in a very good move Steven Joyce is put in charge of Novopay, and fixing the problems there.

The caucus will need to elect a new senior whip, but I can’t imagine any reason whu junior whip Louise Upston won’t succeed to that – so the focus is probably more on who from 2011 may step up to become junior whip.

I’m delighted that the PM has been bolder than expected, and effectively brought forward what I thought would be a year end reshuffle. And I’m looking forward to the new Ministers making a difference in their new portfolios.

Big thanks to Phil and Kate also for their service.

National MP also referred to Police for electoral breach

November 2nd, 2011 at 3:03 pm by David Farrar

Katie Chapman at Stuff reports:

National MP Michael Woodhouse could be fined up to $40,000 after he allegedly broke election campaign rules.

The party’s campaign manager Jo de Joux confirmed Woodhouse, who is the Dunedin MP, was being dealt with by police after a complaint was received regarding two advertisements that did not carry promoter statements.

Everything a candidate puts out should pretty much have an authorisation statement. Could be an expensive lesson. The likely fine, if changed and found guilty, is a few hundred dollars.

And even more MPs

January 20th, 2009 at 9:04 pm by David Farrar

Today’s three:

Rahui Katene

Rahui Katene was blunt about her views of the Crown’s treatment of Maori and the Treaty settlements, saying claims of strong race relations was a “national myth”.

However, she said it remained her strong belief that the best way for Maori to achieve their goals was to work within the system to do so.

I would be worried if an MP advocated not working within the system.

Michael Woodhouse

Was chief executive of Mercy Hospital Dunedin for seven years. President of the Private Surgical Hospitals Association. Worked at Dunedin Hospital and as a senior manager for ACC. Passionate advocate of the use of the private sector to reduce waiting lists. Married with three daughters, the born and bred Otago man says he has “blue and gold blood running through my veins”. He is a premier grade rugby referee.

I dare say many on the waiting lists would also welcome a reduction.

Mr Woodhouse’s ancestors include Lawrence’s first butcher and James Woodhouse, who emigrated from England and discovered gold near Roxburgh: “No great wealth passed down, however, as he purchased the Bannockburn Hotel and fathered eight children.” In the days of transient clerics, family legend had it that his great great grandmother grabbed whichever man of the cloth was in town at the time of the birth of each child. “Thus, according to legend, descendants of James and Mary were christened Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and so on. If true, my great grandfather was born when the Catholic priest was passing through.”

Heh, a cute story.

Rajen Prasad

Aged 62. A list-only candidate, ranked very high at 12. Labour’s spokesman for voluntary and community sector, and associate spokesman for ethnic affairs and social development (family and Child, Youth and Family). On social services select committee.

I feel quite sorry for him, as he may get to just serve a few years in opposition before retiring.

“The leaky home problem has been well publicised and many of us know of families whose mental health has suffered; some have taken their lives in desperation. I ask [members] to find out the extent of the problem in your areas and meet some of the desperate people who are victims. You will find their stories compelling. Many currently live in limbo and are out of pocket while lawyers, builders, and developers are benefiting enormously from their situation. I hope this can be resolved.”

He should talk to his former leader about this, as she famously said it (leaky homes) was all a beat up by the NZ Herald.