In Harms Way: A case study of Pacific workers in Manukau Manufacturing

Department of Labour - Labour and Immigration Rese…
01 Mar 2012

There is an extensive research literature on health and safety in relation to migrants and ethnic minority communities, but there is very little published research specifically addressing factors contributing to the health and safety of Pacific communities in New Zealand. The literature provides a mixed picture of a complex issue, with many interacting factors. Migrants may be at higher risk of occupational injury and disease primarily because of the inherently higher-riskoccupations that significant groups of migrants and ethnic minorities work in, some of which are also characterised by low wages and precarious employment relationships. Education, skill levels, and proficiency in the language of the receiving country are major determinants for entering these occupations.

This report discusses research undertaken to examine injury reporting by Pacific workers in the manufacturing industry in Manukau. In the planning of this research project, the project team built on the work of the Puataunofo Manukau Project (PMP) and discussions with Pacific researchers and stakeholders.



The research has three main data sources: ACC data from the work account, interviews with 40 Pacific workers in six manufacturing firms in Manukau, and interviews with 19 employer representatives within the same firms. Fieldwork was conducted by Department of Labour staff and an external Samoan researcher based in Auckland.

The highest number of ACC claims lodged by Pacific people comes from the manufacturing industry. This sector is a large employer of Pacific workers with over 19.5 percent Pacific employees, compared with 11.0 percent of the total population nationally in 2006. Manukau was chosen as the research site due to its large population base of Pacific people, who make up 28.1 percent of the Manukau manufacturing workforce.

The research’s aims were to explore the factors involved in the higher rates of injury reporting by Pacific workers seen in the ACC data and use the findings to inform future work in the area.

Key Results

Pacific people have consistently had higher injury reporting rates in the manufacturing industry in New Zealand. When looking at Manukau specifically, there is evidence that occupation is an influence on the higher reporting rates, with Pacific people being over-represented in the higher-risk occupations.

However, it is clear that this is not the only factor, with the reporting rates for Pacific people within the labourer occupations being almost twice those of non-Pacific people. Labouring is also the largest occupational group for Pacific people within Manukau manufacturing, suggesting that initiatives should focus on these workers in particular to have a significant impact on reporting rates. Pacific men aged between 41 and 65 years appear to have the highest rates and highest number of claims.

Pacific people are under-represented in fatalities reported to ACC, with New Zealand Europeans being the over-represented group, suggesting that a focus on injuries that cause death may not be the most appropriate for reducing injuries among Pacific people. The injuries that have prior activity and cause recorded suggest that lifting, lowering, loading, and unloading are the most common scenes of the injuries reported—not just for Pacific people but across the manufacturing workforce in Manukau.

The interviews with Pacific workers revealed communication issues that lead to a reluctance to report minor injuries, less accessible training, and poorly understood health and safety messages. These issues stem from differences between how training is conducted and how staff would prefer to learn, language barriers, feelings of disempowerment by staff, formal social structures within ethnic groups, and (potentially) poor literacy.

Literacy and language barriers were two areas that were only hinted at during the interviews with Pacific workers but came out in greater volume during the employer interviews. This could be related to the style of data collection, such that affected individuals may not want to talk about problems in either of these areas because of the stigma attached. The communication issues were reported to affect training uptake, staff relations, and message transmission.

Training in health and safety came out as an issue in relation to both language barriers, but also in the learning style preferences. This was not an area that appeared in the literature but seems to have a significant impact on the worker’s uptake of health and safety messages.

Employers and their representatives stated that there had been significant improvements in health and safety practices in the past four to five years. The practices of firms appeared to be influenced by union presence in the workplace. Participants felt that unions had a two-fold positive influence on health and safety: through being a vehicle of information dissemination and through pushing for stronger practices from employers.

Although employers were aware of the above issues, there was a diverse range of responses. Some did not address the issues at all, while others employed informal procedures such as having a Samoan member of staff translate health and safety messages for those who did not speak English fluently. There was little evidence of a systematic approach to any of the issues, although some employers tried to conduct periodic training sessions in smaller groups to create a more accessible environment for Pacific workers. This type of training was viewed as rewarding for both employers and staff.

Employer interviewees discussed their perceptions of Pacific workers as hardworking people who are also self-effacing and strongly religious. These beliefs were viewed as affecting the workers’ reporting of both minor injuries and near misses and dangerous situations, as well as their willingness to perform duties outside their normal roles, which could lead to injury.

Although the situation is complex, there are some initiatives the Department of Labour could undertake to improve the situation seen in Manukau, which is likely to be indicative of the manufacturing industry as a whole, and potentially of workplaces that employ a number of different ethnic groups.

This study has illustrated the need for health and safety training to be regularly administered, and tailored to the needs of the particular audience. Across all businesses interviewed in Manukau manufacturing, and across a number of Pacific ethnicities, both staff and management pointed to language barriers and differences in learning leading to poor uptake of health and safety messages.

Much of the future work suggested could be accommodated within the framework of an expanded Puataunofo project, the basis of which is already in place.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018