Led by Australian consultants Alan Clayton and Andrea Shaw, the aim of the workshop was to bring together participants from different sectors – public and private-sector employers and employees, civil society members, self-employed workers, to discuss how to create “a fit-for-purpose OSH regulatory framework” for the Cook Islands.
The workshop was the latest step in the Cook Islands OSH National Reform Project, the goal of which is to raise the standards of OSH across the country by establishing new legal requirements for OSH, workers’ compensation and employers’ liability insurance.
Workshop participants were asked to consider four key reform principles in their discussions, These were fairness: sharing the costs of occupational ill-health; comprehensiveness: ensuring all workers and enterprises benefit from reform; prevention: going beyond just treatment and compensation; and sustainability: ensuring the legislative system can fund the requirements of new regulations without damaging the national economy.
“This is a highly consulted project,” said Clayton, who together with Shaw has now made three trips to the Cook Islands to work on the National Reform Project.
“We’ve got some background and experience, but we’re working with the people of the Cooks in order to get a solution that’s fit for purpose for the Cook Islands, not something that is taken off the shelf from elsewhere.”
Clayton has 40 years of experience in the fields of workers’ compensation and employers’ liability and, as well as working extensively in Australia and New Zealand, was also involved in redesigning Indonesia’s workers’ compensation scheme.
He first came to the Cook Islands in April, for what he described as “the feeling-out stage” of the project.
“We had widespread consultation with every possible group, from government, to the Chamber of Commerce, to service providers, lawyers and accountants,” he said.
“So I think we’ve consulted with every group that’s got a significant interest in occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation.”
As to yesterday’s workshop, Clayton said it went “extremely well”.
“This is a process to allow respectful but spirited discussion,” he added.
One result of such discussion was the acknowledgement that while establishing new OSH regulations on Rarotonga is one thing, “it might take time to be able to get similar types of things going in the pa enua”.
“You’ll have the overall standards that apply generally, but rolling it out is something else. I mean, in the 40 years I’ve been involved in this sort of thing, probably the major takeaway principle is, don’t try and implement something that you don’t have the capability and capacity to deliver,” said Clayton.
“If it falls over, people say the whole system is a crock, when it was probably robust in its design but there wasn’t the infrastructure or the people with the requisite skills, experience, capability and capacity to actually deliver the rollout.”
Once this latest step in the OSH consultation process is done, Clayton says they will then put together “a research paper, a policy paper, and again, every step of the way encouraging consultation and feedback”.
Clayton says he and Shaw will return to the Cook Islands again for a final consultation on the OSH National Reform Project “probably in late February”.
After that he hopes they will be able to submit draft legislation by the end of April next year to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who will then prepare it for submission to cabinet.
“And then it’s up to government.”
- Shaun Bamber