GUEST BLOG: Sam Gribben – Standing up to Talleys

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On Thursday, Talley’s Group Ltd was fined for its role in the death of Leighton Muir, a Kiwi bloke in his 20s who was decapitated on a Talley’s tuna vessel. According to a Muir family friend, Leighton was “a happy, hard-working young man who always had a great big, beaming smile.”

His death was entirely avoidable. Three weeks before the tragedy, a 50mm thick rope had snapped. Rather than replace it with a spare rope (there was one on-board), the boat’s bosun just tied it back together again. No one had investigated why the rope broke, and the skipper did not check the knot.

Leighton was working in the ‘snap-back zone’, a particularly hazardous area even when all equipment is functioning properly. Just standing in the zone is highlighted in the vessel’s hazard register. This is no sort of freak accident.

The lack of accountability is alarming. Although Talley’s pleaded guilty, their statements have laid the blame on two senior officials, the skipper and the bosun. Two people who did not return to New Zealand for the investigation.

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It does sound like a lot of the blame should lie with the senior officials. In court, the prosecutor revealed that crew members had already alerted the bosun to this exact possibility. But the bosun “reacted badly and scared the others off” trying to take it any further. The crew were bullied into working in unsafe conditions, and as a result, a young man was decapitated.

Who hired these senior officials? Whose profit margins were they thinking of when they decided not to take the 30 minutes it would have taken to replace the rope? Which company stood to profit from the kind of health and safety shortcuts that led to Leighton’s death? The answer is Talley’s Group Limited.

The very same Talley’s Group Limited where addiction to busting the Meat Workers Union has been making headlines for years. Talley’s, where a cleaner was suspended on a meat hook by his head earlier this year. Believe it or not, the same Talley’s, and the exact same boat, where another Kiwi, Cain Adams, died two years before Leighton after falling through an open hatch.

In 2014 alone, ACC forked out nearly $2 million for injured Talley’s workers.

In the Talley’s statement, general manager Tony Hazlett acknowledged that Talley’s was legally liable for the officers’ failings, explaining the guilty plea. To me that still reads like evading responsibility. Acknowledging legal culpability while blaming the senior officers says nothing about their workplace health and safety culture.

All it says is that Talley’s will accept their punishment as the cost of doing business. How much was that fine? $73,520. The fine for the Talley’s role in Cain’s death was $48,000. The Talley’s family wealth is said to be about $300 million. If your net worth was an extremely cosy $3 million, this fine would mean $735.20 to your company, for the death of a worker. Essentially chump change.

There are two things that might actually make companies like this take the lives of their workers more seriously. One is significant penalties. Fines that are so severe that the very top people in the company suffer serious financial punishment upon a death or injury for which the company is found liable.

The second thing is us, the consumers, using our wallets to send the message. If you don’t think Talley’s deserve to make ridiculous cash while their record on workers’ issues is this abysmal, then don’t buy their stuff. Make sure your seafood, vegetables, meat and dairy products come from other companies.

What you don’t do, is give Sir Peter Talley a knighthood for ‘services to business and philanthropy’ when his business is pleading guilty to deaths. Well, you don’t do that unless you are John Key.

 

Sam Gribben is a Wellington based political activist

5 COMMENTS

  1. I haven’t bought Talleys products for years, as far as I know. So No Seafood or Veges and no Dairy from them. But as far as AAFCO is concerned the Meat. I don’t know about that.

  2. I dont like talleys foods anyway. Never buy from that company. The owners are living in multi million dollar mansions. They have no health or safety in there company. They dont like unions, they wont hire you if you are a member in a union. They think that workers in New Zealand should be paid hourly rate on minimum wage so they can get richer. They dont care about other people or their own workers. Thats the perks when you are JOHN KEYS mates.
    They got off lightly!!

  3. Shocking! Especially that the 2 people blamed were not even present. I guess another good reason to employ overseas workers for Talleys, when the crap hits the fan, you can hide them and let the lawyers do the talking.

  4. Talley’s is definitely a dirty Company here for sure!

    With a disgusting lack of “Good corporate social & environmental conduct?

    They were involved in the overfishing /dumping of illegal fish stock also which has made us a grubby country now in the eyes of the world.

    Shame on you Talley’s – the directors should be jailed.

  5. Letter to the editor, Nelson Mail June 14

    Now Tallys has five prosecutions against it for failing to ensure the safety of its employees. Due to the inherent nature of deep-sea fishing, it is always going to be high risk; however this doesn’t mean death is an acceptable risk for any industry. The most tragic death of Leighton Muir has not been fairly reflected in the utterly miserable amount of reparation awarded by Judge Hastings. Judge Hastings has done a great injustice to the Muir family by awarding a mere $21,000, especially in the light of Talley’s previous prosecution reparation for $35,000. I also fail to understand a system where the fine well exceeds reparation. The fact that in this case nobody has been held accountable makes even more tragic reading. Talley’s need to take responsibility for what happened and open their wallets. It’s outrageous that reparation is so insultingly low for the grieving families of these tragic workplace accidents. The honourable thing to do is to write out that cheque for $120,000 (implored for by the prosecutor) and demonstrate that big business in NZ, indeed Nelson, still have a human side to them that recognises what is the fair and decent thing to do in these situations.

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