ACC cuts $1.5m in health, safety training

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 16:57 14/01/2014

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ACC is to axe funding for health and safety training by the Council of Trade Unions and Business NZ because it considers it has not delivered value for money.

A spokeswoman said the decision was taken late last year, but it was made public only today after a lobby group revealed internal criticisms of the scheme.

ACC paid the CTU, Business NZ and private firm Impac Services a total of $1.5 million last year to train health and safety representatives. The fee amounts to about $360 for each person trained.

It was known that the scheme, set up in 2003, was under review after ACC Minister Judith Collins questioned its rationale last October.

"It's not clear to me whether the provision of free training services for big business to carry out their legal obligation is a good or fair use of levy payers' money," she said.

ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville revealed today that the scheme would be axed when the current contracts expired.

"While the training programme did provide some value, it did not meet our level of expectations, nor deliver value for money."

CTU secretary Peter Conway said unions had signed a contract to the end of 2014, worth about $700,000 a year. He was surprised ACC was so definitive in saying the scheme would end, although the CTU knew it was under review.

Under new health and safety law, prompted by the Pike River tragedy and the subsequent royal commission, onsite representatives would have new powers and would need to be trained.

"We would not expect to see any reduction in training - in fact an increase - but the model may change," Conway said.

Feedback from workers and businesses on the existing scheme had been positive.

Labour's ACC spokesman, Iain Lees-Galloway, said the decision raised questions about Collins' involvement.

"Coincidentally this comes at exactly the same time as an attack on the cost of the programme by the Taxpayers' Union, and just months after Ms Collins raised the same issue," he said.

"When corners are cut, there can be disastrous consequences, as we saw with Pike River."

Conway said the CTU trained nearly 2000 representatives last year and the scheme "is not some cosy deal", as suggested by the Taxpayers' Union. 

"It is always hard to show that  this kind of preventative course reduces accidents per se, as it is difficult to quantify the value. This will always be an issue. 

"But a workplace is safer with a trained rep, and that is what the CTU and ACC want to ensure. This is not a waste of money."

The CTU did not add on a management fee for providing the training, he said.

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But the Taxpayers' Union, which says it is non-aligned but is fronted by Right-leaning lobbyists, said the "cosy deal" between Business NZ, the CTU and ACC had cost levy payers $19m since 2003.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act showed ACC felt the training did little, if anything, to reduce workplace accidents.

It concluded that, even on optimistic assumptions, 84c in every dollar spent on the training was wasted.

"Business NZ and the CTU have created a nice little earner for themselves," Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams said. "It's a disgraceful example of big corporate and union welfare chewing through taxpayer cash."

He called on Collins "to put an end to this outrageous handout to New Zealand's largest business lobby group and trade unions".

- Fairfax Media

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