Business NZ has hit back at ACC Minister Judith Collins over her attacks on an ACC-funded health and safety training programme run by Business NZ, the Council Of Trade Unions and a private provider.
ACC announced this week that the $1.5 million a year programme would be canned at the end of of 2014 because it was not providing value for money.
Collins had joined criticism of the scheme, which has run since 2003, describing it as a cosy arrangement that had the hallmarks of a scam and a rort.
Business NZ today broke its silence on the issue, with a press release quoting its chief executive, Phil O'Reilly.
"For the record, Business NZ utterly rejects mistaken allegations made by lobbyist Jordan Williams since repeated by the ACC minister," O'Reilly said.
"The BusinessNZ family's involvement has been completely ethical at all times, and I am confident that this is also the case with the involvement of the CTU and Impac Services."
The CTU has also strongly rejected the criticisms by Collins and Williams.
O'Reilly said it was "unfortunate that important debate on workplace safety has been undermined by intemperate media comment".
Media reporting of uninformed assumptions by Williams appeared to have led to the minister's comments, O'Reilly said.
He had since received assurances from the minister that she had not meant to impugn the integrity of "the Business NZ family".
The "family" is BusinessNZ, EMA, Business Central, Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, and the Otago Southland Employers Association.
O'Reilly said claims about the training scheme had been "regrettable and BusinessNZ had so far refrained from commenting on them because it has not been possible to have constructive dialogue in the context of overblown media comment".
"Key issues are that New Zealand's health and safety has just been changed and more stringent focus is needed on the goals of improving workplace safety," O'Reilly said.
"The ACC and the Government are central to this goal, and BusinessNZ and the CTU as the largest representatives of people in the workplace also have a critical role to play.
"Tripartite co-operation has been critical in the development of the new health and safety regime and it is regrettable that this may have been undermined."
The goals and outcomes of the ACC courses appeared to have been misunderstood, O'Reilly said.
"The training part-funded by ACC is being run according to the brief set by ACC and is achieving the outcomes it was set up for. The objectives include ensuring that health and safety reps are able to reduce and remove workplace hazards, co-develop safety plans for their workplace, promote safety management among their co-workers, and train others to do the same.
"The course objectives are clearly specified and are being successfully delivered according to specifications."
Contrary to claims by Williams, who is the spokesman for the anti-waste lobby group the Taxpayers' Union, the training objective was not set in terms of reducing the number of workplace accidents in New Zealand, O'Reilly said.
"While this is obviously everyone's overall goal - and the ACC training courses are no doubt helping to achieve the present overall reduction in workplace accidents - it would be ridiculous to expect a national goal to be achieved solely by two-day training courses for safety reps."
O'Reilly said he hoped the discussion would now move on to the important goal of improving safety in the workplace.
"The ACC-funded courses are a small part of this work. The BusinessNZ family invests significant resources in health and safety training and promotion and is almost certainly the biggest self-funded provider of health and safety guidance in New Zealand."
With changes under way to health and safety law it was important that companies, employees, safety reps and the general public all focused hard on the actions needed to get safer workplaces.
"Hopefully the intemperate media debate in the last two days will not distract attention from that goal."
Williams said Business NZ's reaction ignored that the criticisms of the scheme came from ACC's own experts.
"All the Taxpayers' Union did was bring them to the public's attention."
Business NZ should focus on rebutting the criticism that it has accepted millions of dollars from ACC that did little, if anything, to improve workplace safety.
"Rather than getting personal Mr O'Reilly could tell us what exactly is 'mistaken'," Williams said.
"All we've done is highlight ACC's expert analysis which states that, even with optimistic assumptions, 84 cents per dollar spent was wasted."
"To blame us for the minister labelling the Business NZ scheme 'cosy' and 'a scam' is flattering, but vastly exaggerates the influence of the Taxpayers' Union."
- Fairfax Media