Workplaces will be less safe following WorkSafe’s decision to significantly restructure the organisation, according to the Public Service Association (PSA).
WorkSafe today unveiled restructuring plans which, if implemented, would significantly impact the organisation’s workforce, and threaten the services that safeguard the health and safety of workers, says PSA National Secretary, Kerry Davies.
“This proposal is a disappointing step in the wrong direction,” said Ms Davies.
“We already have a poor health and safety record, and we need a well-resourced regulator that is able to tackle these challenges.
“Our fatality rate is double that of Australia – on average one or two workers a week dies at work. Another 15-18 die from illnesses caused by their work. A recent study showed that workplace deaths and injuries are costing the economy $4.4 billion a year, quite apart from the human cost of these tragedies. 
“Under this restructuring proposal many parts of WorkSafe will be impacted, representing a significant loss of technical expertise.”
Ms Davies said every worker had the right to a job that does not hurt or kill them.
“We need to ensure that WorkSafe has the tools and resources to keep workers safe and the PSA will be advocating strongly for WorkSafe to get the resources it needs to be effective,” she said.
“This is the time to keep investing in workplace safety. Good health and safety costs money and failing to invest is a false economy. The cost of failure is borne by workers, their families, businesses and communities. The Government also pays again through ACC and welfare liabilities.
“We urge the Government to fund WorkSafe to the right level so it can continue its work of ensuring workplaces remain safe for all.
“Our priority right now is to support and assist our members at WorkSafe through a stressful time for them and their families,” she said.
WorkSafe New Zealand today opened staff consultation on its organisation change proposal.
“WorkSafe is committed to working towards a sustainable operating model. The change proposal aims to streamline our activities to focus on the core functions New Zealanders expect of their health and safety regulator,” the agency said in a statement.
“Since WorkSafe’s inception, our baseline funding has been maintained and we have received additional ongoing funding for specific activities, as well as time-limited funding for short-term cost pressures like COVID-19 and the Whakaari litigation.”
As part of ongoing funding discussions, in 2021, the former Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety commissioned the Strategic Baseline Review.
The Review found that while WorkSafe is performing its core regulatory functions, work was needed to achieve a sustainable funding model and clarity about the outcomes WorkSafe is delivering to New Zealanders.
“WorkSafe agreed to the recommendations in the Review, and we have been working at pace to implement these recommendations, which are critical to enable us to develop a clear investment case for future funding.”
The current proposal includes a number of roles being disestablished and new roles being established. While the proposal is subject to change, the overall roles within WorkSafe may reduce by 100-120, the safety agency said.
“We have recently been provided with additional ongoing funding to allow us to maintain victim services and coronial services through this change process. We have also been supported with additional cost pressure funding for the Whakaari litigation and new contingency funding, which we can draw on for unexpected events. This support means we don’t have to further reduce services, including at the frontline,” it said.
“The proposed changes would still result in WorkSafe having more staff than we did prior to COVID-19. We have worked hard to prioritise non-personnel cost reductions over changes that directly impact our people, including by reducing current vacancies within WorkSafe.”
It said there was no proposed impact to frontline inspectors and investigators.
“t remains WorkSafe’s intention to grow inspector numbers over the coming years, with more inspectors planned for later this year. If a health and safety inspector is operating in a non-frontline role, and is impacted through the change, they will be offered redeployment to a frontline inspector role. This reflects our commitment to streamline our activities to our core functions.”