Hamfisted health and safety for the sake of National’s pork barrel

I’m sorry, I simply couldn’t resist the potential for porcine punnery on this one, inspired by Bill Rosenberg’s comments on Stuff. A good headline sells a story – and that’s what we’re seeing with the latest hapless chapter of Michael Woodhouse’s tenure as Minister of Workplace Relations.

Thanks to apparent machinations from the Collins faction of the National caucus, Woodhouse is trying to sell a watered-down piece of health and safety legislation as the real thing. (Dammit, should have done a homeopathy headline, the #Twitterati love mocking homeopathy!)

Take it away, Patrick Gower:

Three words that no Cabinet minister can ever want attached to high-profile legislation: “joke”, “madness” and “botch”.

I know some lefties who are concerned about the focus on the sillier aspects – the fact that worm farms are being classed as high risk isn’t actually the problem, the fact that dairy farms aren’t being classed as high risk is, despite being the sites of a huge proportion of workplace accidents.

worms world party

Besides, worms can be violent, man.

But the silliness is an important part of the story. This government has passed many a law which was poorly-thought-through, ineffective, inconsistent, or based on bad political policy. They weren’t PR disasters because they’re too complex, too difficult to explain in the one-sentence intro to an article. Experts shouting technical jargon at each other doesn’t make good TV.

Worm farms are high risk? Now that people can wrap their heads around while they’re eating their dinner (assuming you don’t suffer from a strong visual imagination, in which case thinking about worms while you’re eating spag bol might not be a great idea.)

That tells you, far more effectively than any clinical explanation could, that this process has been botched. That this government just doesn’t have a strategy – and thus that their health and safety legislation is not based on making sure all workers get home safe at the end of their shift.

simpsons small american flags

It’s also a great example of how universalism makes for a much easier policy sell. As Labour found with their Best Start policy in 2014, as anyone who’s ever dabbled with tax law can tell you, as soon as you start making exceptions for this industry or that product or the other

A simple, powerful law – all workplaces must have health and safety reps, if the workers there request one – was an easy sell. The Pike River families supported it. Unions supported it. Labour would probably have been forced to vote for it. A victory for National’s dedicated campaign of portraying itself as centrist and reasonable.

Instead, they’re making fumble after fumble trying to spin a coherent story from contradictory parts, and it’s doing far more damage than pretty much anything the Opposition could have done to them.

sanchez fumble

For the purposes of illustration, Michael Woodhouse = Mark Sanchez, and the National Party caucus = Brandon Moore’s butt. Let us hope – and this is the only time I’ll ever say this – the Opposition can be the New England Patriots.

 

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