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28 APRIL 2006

New Zealand: Workers' Memorial Day Activities 2006

1,000 New Zealanders die every year from the “silent killer”

The National Occupation Health and Safety Advisory Committee (NOHSAC) reported in 2004 that up to 1,000 New Zealanders die each year from work-related diseases, yet only a handful receive any compensation at all. This raises two important issues. How do we prevent the deaths? And how can we ensure that the workers (or their families) get fair compensation from ACC? The CTU will be highlighting these questions in a campaign to be launched on Workers Memorial Day on the 28th April.

While that is a day when we remember our workmates who died, or were seriously injured, in work accidents, it is also a day when we make a commitment as Health and Safety Reps, and unionists, to ensure that we are vigilant about preventing accidents and occupational disease in our workplaces.

And it is important that we don't ignore the hidden hazards that can cause occupational diseases.

The number of toxic substances in our workplaces has grown astronomically over the past few decades and Health and Safety Reps have a vital role in ensuring that accurate information about possible workplace exposures to toxic substances is available so that the exposure can be eliminated or controlled.
A failure to do so can result in the devastation of occupational diseases, sometimes 20 or even 30 years later. The tragedy of the thousands of asbestos related diseases cases is a reminder of that and it is important to remember that this epidemic was entirely preventable because asbestos was known to be a killer of workers at the time.

The CTU was pleased to see the recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Work-Related Gradual Process, Disease or Infection provide a long overdue focus on the 'Cinderella status' of occupational disease victims under our ACC scheme.

But there has been no action on ensuring that the victims of asbestos diseases get the same lump sum compensation as accident victims. And that is why the CTU will be launching a campaign to persuade the Government to change the ACC scheme to make sure that they do.

It is not an answer to say that it will cost too much to compensate these victims of past asbestos exposure. If necessary the companies which created that hazard should pay the extra levies to ACC to fund fair compensation for asbestos disease victims.

Ross Wilson,
NZCTU President

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Tel: 04 385 1334 ext. 824
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