Health and safety legislation sees Peter Jackson resign as Weta Workshop director

Sir Peter Jackson felt he was not involved enough on a daily basis with Weta Workshop, as required by new health and ...
CAMERON BURNELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Sir Peter Jackson felt he was not involved enough on a daily basis with Weta Workshop, as required by new health and safety laws, so has resigned as director but remains a shareholder.

New health and safety legislation has forced Sir Peter Jackson to resign as a director of Weta Workshop.

The five-time Academy Award winning design studio and physical manufacturing facility services the world's entertainment and creative industries and is also a tourism destination.

Jackson along with fellow Oscar winner Jamie Selkirk stepped down from Sir Richard Taylor's Miramar workshop on December 31, Companies Office documents show.

Oscar winning film editor and producer Jamie Selkirk, who was a Weta Workshop founder, has also resigned as a director ...
REUTERS

Oscar winning film editor and producer Jamie Selkirk, who was a Weta Workshop founder, has also resigned as a director of the business.

The change comes ahead of new legislation which would make directors personally liable for health and safety, which the Institute of Directors said demonstrated that directors needed to be across all aspects of the business.

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Jackson and Selkirk both still own about one third of Weta Workshop.

They are directors and shareholders of PJR Holdings, which is the single shareholder of Weta Workshop and each have about 33 per cent of the shares - the same as Taylor.

Matt Dravitzki, executive producer of Jackson's Wingnut Films, said Jackson was still an owner, however new health and safety legislation which will come into force in April would see the role of a director require more day-to-day involvement in the business.

Weta Workshop senior communications manager Erik Hay confirmed the law change was behind the move for Jackson and Selkirk.

"The reason was centred around the law change, which will require them to be more involved on a daily basis. As a manufacturing business, it's important they are. Peter felt he was not and decided to step out of the piece. They will still retain shares in the company."

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Current directors George Hickton and Cameron Harland, who were appointed in April 2015, were involved monthly but Taylor worked with the business on a daily basis, Hay said.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which will come into effect on April 4, is aimed at helping reduce New Zealand's workplace toll of serious injuries and deaths by 25 per cent by 2020.

The new act has much tougher penalties, including making directors liable for failure to take responsibility for health and safety.

Institute of directors chief executive Simon Arcus said Jackson had made an "excellent, considered choice" given the circumstances.

The sleeping director had obviously looking into what the legislative changes were going to be, he said.

"The age of the sleeping director is absolutely dead and this reinforces the need for directors to be across all aspects of their role, with health and safety being a key consideration."

He believed there would now be a growing awareness among sleeping directors, who would stand up and take notice rather than resign.

"Health and safety is now everyone's responsibility at the boardroom table - it's a collective responsibility."

Health and safety had been a huge issue for directorships since reform started a few years ago.

In response to the legislation, he had noticed a heightened awareness about health and safety among his members.

Many were setting up reporting processes and committees that included, workers, management and directors.

Chapman Tripp senior associate, Marie Wisker, who specialises in employment law and health and safety, said there was a general nervousness among directors, who were asking questions.

"They will have personal liability, which is scary and new but we are telling clients, it's just about good governance."

Many directors already had good governance in place and it was just a matter of understanding the legislation, she said.

'It should not trigger a whole lot of director resignations," she said.

Under the new act, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), is the primary duty holder. Other categories include "officers", which encompasses directors, partners and people who have a significant influence over the management of the PCBU.

A PCBU is not required to have a health and safety representative if it has 19 or fewer workers and is not within the high-risk industries.

Personal liability can be found for any of the duty holders (PCBU, officer, worker), with the maximum fine for a PCBU being $3 million. An officer can be fined up to $600,000 or face five years' jail.

Michael Woodhouse, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety said in a statement that he was not aware of the exact reason's for Jackson's resignation but "any suggestion that directors need to resign because of new requirements under the new Health and Safety at Work Act is an unnecessary overreaction".

Woodhouse added: "While there are greater accountabilities on directors under the new law, by no means does it require directors to be involved in the running of the business on a daily basis as suggested."

No time for sleeping directors

New health and safety legislation is forcing directors to confront their level of involvement in the businesses. When the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 comes into effect on April 4, directors can be held personally responsible for any breaches and face a maximum fine of $3 million or a jail term. Where previously a director might have argued that the responsibilities were left to management or other directors, they now face the prospect of liability, conclusively ending the possibility of being a sleeping or silent director.

 - Stuff

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