Helen Kelly recognised for efforts to bring forestry companies to justice

By Heeni Brown
  • Wellington

Hundreds of people attended the public memorial for New Zealand Council of Trade Unions' former president Helen Kelly, an influential leader who fought for the rights of workers.

Today in Wellington, the Council of Trade Unions' current president Richard Wagstaff recognised Kelly's efforts to expose the awful death rate in the forestry industry.

Wagstaff says "I used to go into her office and I used to say to her, it looked like something out of a TV crime detective Police drama, because you'd go in there and there used to be a board this high that had all the names of the fatalities of people and there were lines drawn between them and bits of paper up and pieces stappled to it, pinned to it and she'd look at me and widen her eyes and in mock seriousness would say, that's right it is a crime scene and I'm gonna solve it."

According to Work Safe New Zealand in 2013 there were a total of 10 fatalities in the forestry sector, including the death of 19-year-old Eramiha Pairama who passed away after he was struck while felling a tree near Whakatane in January 2013.

Last year Puketi Logging was found guilty of a charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act relating to Pairama's death.

CTU took the private prosecution on Puketi Logging after the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) inspectors made the decision not to prosecute.

Wagstaff says "She lead the CTU to take the private prosecutions when MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) wouldn't in the forestry sector, but when she was first diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things she said to me was, I better not bloody die before those private prosecutions are heard in the Authority for those forestry companies will get away with it because they're in my name, of course she lived to see those prosecutions succeed."

Two weeks ago Helen Kelly passed away aged 52 following a battle with lung cancer.
Kelly was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2015.