EPMU v Pike River Coal

December 3rd, 2010 at 3:47 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

The miners’ union says Coal is insisting that its lawyers sit in on official police and Department of Labour investigation interviews into the mine tragedy which claimed 29 lives.

The union said that was potentially “contaminating” the process.

However, Pike River said today it was only making employees – many of whom had no prior contact with the police – aware of their legal rights.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which represents miners, said today the company’s stance was causing major conflict.

“Management is insisting on the right of company lawyers to sit in on interviews. Their lawyers are sitting in on interviews with the Department of Labour and police,” general secretary Andrew Little said.

However, chairman John Dow said it was up to individual employees whether lawyers sat in on the interviews.

The company was only trying to ensure its staff got the appropriate advice on their rights, and how the process worked.

“We are trying to find out what happened, our only interest is getting to the bottom of it – what caused the explosion and making sure it won’t happen again.

“We’ve said to our employees that if they are not happy having lawyers in the room, that’s fine.”

So the is arguing that the employees should have no choice in whether or not a lawyer is present for their interviews.

A Department of Labour (DOL) spokesman said it was the employee’s choice to decide whether company lawyers or other representatives attended on DOL interviews.

“We are informing employees that they have this choice.”

As it should be.

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32 Responses to “EPMU v Pike River Coal”

  1. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Yeah sure David, coal companies history on the West Coast shows that companies biggest concerns have always been their staff’s welfare.
    Yeah right.

    Bloody insulting comment from the coal company is it not, suggesting that miners etc would not have the nous to know that they are entitled to have a lawyer of THEIR choice sit in on the interview.

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  2. Kimble (4,440 comments) says:

    OK grumpy, what exactly is the problem?

    The lawyers are there. The people are told that they dont have to have the lawyer there and that it is their choice if they sit in or not.

    Again, what is the problem?

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  3. jaba (2,143 comments) says:

    I wondered how long it would take for a shit fight .. all parties should be allowed to have a representative present on an issue like this

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  4. Kimble (4,440 comments) says:

    Once again the EPMU is inventing an issue to vent against.

    There is nothing in this story, except for the EPMU’s allegation, that shows PRC is insisting on the right for company lawyers to sit in on meetings. Nothing.

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  5. RightNow (6,994 comments) says:

    I can’t help thinking that if the company didn’t offer to provide a lawyer then the EPMU would protest about it.

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  6. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    @Kimble:

    Again, what is the problem?

    Privilege, for a start. In the event the company is found to have some liability, some of the people being interviewed could become witnesses against them. The lawyers are paid by the company, so can pass on what they’re hearing, and proffer advice based on that, all the while being covered by privilege. They are also bound by convention to act in their client’s best interests, which may not accord with the interests of its employees.

    Now it could be that the company has the purest of motives, but I’m surprised the lawyers didn’t express some discomfort.

    The company could always defuse the perception by publicly releasing the lawyers from any obligation to it; in other words, saying “you’re hired purely to advise our employees, you’re not to tell us anything that goes on”, but I’m not sure that would over-ride the obligation if it came to the crunch.

    OTOH, if the EPMU’s motives are pure perhaps they’d like to dip into their war chest and contribute? A lawyer funded 50% by the union and 50% by the company would at least have an obligation to inform and advise both of them.

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  7. All_on_Red (1,584 comments) says:

    Ok, so a Union makes an allegation and it is clearly refuted. The only news here is that a union continues to make false statements about situations.
    I would have thought we were all so used to this that, as Kimble points out, its a non issue.

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  8. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    It was interesting at the service how the Labour/union side did not have any speakers.
    Regardless of legal issues the men could be intimidated from speaking freely with the company lawyer there..just seems like an imbalance of power..their own lawyer yes but not the company lawyer..
    There has to be legal questions over the young boy being down the mine when he wasn’t even an employee..this seems very lax to me and reflects badly on management.

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  9. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Kimble bloody hell, is history no longer taught in out bloody schools, you would expect miners to be comfortable knowing that the lawyers have been retained by the company ?
    If the company does not want union lawyers sitting in fine, they can offer to pay for lawyers picked by the miners themselves sitting in.

    The majority of the men who died were union members which should give the union the moral right to have their representatives sitting in.

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  10. reid (16,509 comments) says:

    Once again the EPMU is inventing an issue to vent against.

    Well said Kimble.

    Absolutely right.

    Fuck it’s tiresome. It’s like a never-ending background symphony of crap until Liarbore get in when we get blessed silence from the unions but unfortunately the lefty govt is in which is the other problem then the cycle begins anew. It’s a modern Greek tragedy, hopefully ending in a mass uprising which kills either unions or lefty govt’s off forever and forever. I care not which. I just want it to end.

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  11. Nick R (507 comments) says:

    “So the EPMU is arguing that the employees should have no choice in whether or not a lawyer is present for their interviews.”

    Where exactly did that come from? Out of DPF’s orifice? Or did somebody else make it up for him? I can’t find it anywhere in the NZPA story and he hasn’t linked to it.

    My 2 cents as a lawyer – the interests of the company and its employees do not coincide and may conflict. If the company wants to ensure its employees have access to legal advice it should offer to pay for independent legal advice which is not conflicted. Imagine the position if the police ask an employee whether (for example) a particular safety protocol was followed, and the employee asks the company lawyer for advice. Worse, what if the employee wants advice about the Protected Disclosures Act? Everyone is in an impossible position, including the lawyer.

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  12. reid (16,509 comments) says:

    Where exactly did that come from? Out of DPF’s orifice? Or did somebody else make it up for him? I can’t find it anywhere in the NZPA story and he hasn’t linked to it.

    Listening to Little right now on RadioLeftWing and he’s trying to pretend the company had nefarious motives and was basically standing over the employees.

    Right…

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  13. Caleb (479 comments) says:

    company lawyers are only there to protect the company, in the first degree.

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  14. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Reid a tragedy is twenty nine dead miners, the rest is just politics.

    Silence from the unions, well you might be surprised to know union members were the ones making up the mine rescue teams, so they have been a touch busy hoping like hell they would get a chance to get their mates out alive.

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  15. Swampy (191 comments) says:

    Oops, the union is looking bad since they didn’t know about Pike River before hand so now they have to start their usual politics against the big bad capitalists running the Pike River mine.

    This is why someone should tell Russell Normal with his fawning over on frog blog for Little and Co, no one would want a union man on the RCOQ because they couldn’t be trusted not to use it for political grandstanding.

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  16. reid (16,509 comments) says:

    Silence from the unions, well you might be surprised to know union members were the ones making up the mine rescue teams, so they have been a touch busy hoping like hell they would get a chance to get their mates out alive.

    Grumpy no argument but it is a fact that Kimble’s observation is true: unions often do “invent an issue to vent against.”

    That means, make it up, even if it’s not happening. Make it appear as if it is, in order to gain publicity that the union is for the working person not because it makes a blind bit of difference to any particular working person whether personally involved or not for it’s all made-up bullshit but because it makes a tremendous difference to the morale of the union workers and possibly one or two members of the public who remain or become sucked in by their lies.

    I must say I find Little’s venal political use of this circumstance particularly execrable given the gravity because it suggests he’s prepared to undertake actions for nothing more than ambitious opportunism no matter what. That’s a serious flaw in a future PM.

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  17. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Reid venal politics, well I am glad to know no centre or right wing political party would or has ever ever taken part in venal politcs.

    Make it up, the company was a bloody fool in insulting miners by suggesting they needed their lawyers to sit in on interviews to so called help them.

    It is surprising the numbers in NZ who state unions have never been for the worker, too often they are the same ones stating that regulations cost too much in dollars.

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  18. bka (135 comments) says:

    I am wondering who the client is in this situation, the employees or PRC. I have just looked up Information for Clients that the Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers state must be provided to clients at the outset of an engagement. Have the employees received this document? Under client care and service it says the lawyer must “protect and promote your interests and act for you free from compromising influences or loyalties”. I am not sure how they can do this in this situation, Nick R points out examples.
    I also wonder if there are any rules about purporting to be acting for someone when you are actually acting for someone else.

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  19. Swampy (191 comments) says:

    Look Hori, when you add it all up, Little has sniffed the air and decided his union wants a bigger piece of the action, and they’ll probably campaign for Pike River to be nationalised, as well. Don’t forget this man is the President of the Labour Party and Labour want the West Coast seat back in next year’s election, the EPMU also want their yes men calling the shots in the mines (check inspectors).

    Now as for me, for example, I’ve chosen not to be a union member because the unions meddle too much, like Little and Co are starting to do.

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  20. reid (16,509 comments) says:

    Grumpy IMO unions invent evil apparitions more often than prevent them from happening.

    Of course they pretend otherwise.

    Fact is: almost every employer is exemplary including from what I’ve seen of them all of the time so far, Pike River Coal. A few are not and they very very very occasionally appear in the media. Vested interests on the other hand portray twisted views. Unions have a vested interest in portraying such a view. What is Little playing at?

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  21. mattyroo (1,029 comments) says:

    Anybody know how much the EPMU contributed to the PRC miners fund? I would suspect very little, if any.

    Considering they have taken a swathe of money off these blokes over the last hundred years or so, a significant contribution (>100k) would be in order me thinks.

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  22. bka (135 comments) says:

    Whoever is running the interviews should refuse to admit the lawyers unless the lawyers say unambiguously that they are acting in a professional-client relationship with the employees. I presume employees are interviewed on their own, not groups, so as to get a clear picture of events, so there is no reason to have a lawyer who is only representing someone else in the room. That is about protecting the integrity of the investigation.
    I am not a lawyer, but going from the Law Society site to the Lawyers and Conveyances Act Chapter 6; they can’t act for two clients on one matter if there is a non-negligible chance of a conflict of obligations, unless there has been informed prior consent; and they have to pull out if a conflict arises or else can only work for one side with the consent of the other side.
    So you’d hope they would be mindful of all that in acting for the employees.

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  23. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Swampy so the mine owners took every precaution like they have in their history did they, does not give one much confidence does it ?

    What did the union give, well strange that, all the rescue crews were made up of union types with all the risks that went with it.
    Nope, did not see any mine owners who were rushing to risk their skins.
    So when you ask what the unions gave, STOP and BLOODY think before you post.

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  24. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    reid, it may be a bloody good idea for you to look at this history of coal mining in NZ and how far too many employers over the years have been against safety issues on the grounds of cost.

    Smacks to me some are finding the company clear of ANY mistakes before the royal commission as taken one statement.

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  25. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    So from now on if there is an industrial accident the workers should allow the employer to decide on how they are going to be represented.

    Of course the employer and the employee have the same interests. It must be the employee’s fault and the employer sponsored lawyer must make sure that this is the result.

    And Pike Mine’s problems must have been caused by some errant employee and not by bad design or power failures or inadequate design.

    You have got to be kidding …

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  26. cam2570 (4 comments) says:

    Man robs a bank, gets arrested and is interviewed by the police and is offered the option of being represented by the banks lawyers.

    Now I wonder what he will do.

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  27. Swampy (191 comments) says:

    The Mine Rescue people are the ones who are trained to deal with this type of thing, they just happen to be union members. The mine had managers who spent a lot of time in the mine itself, including Whittall because he was actually in charge of developing the mine and he could have just as easily been down there the day it blew up.

    Whether or not the enquiry finds in the company’s favour (and I suspect it will find that there was not enough monitoring equipment installed) is immaterial to Mr Little’s taking the gloves off and conducting standard industrial relations divide and rule tactics. It is the job of the Royal Commission to find out what went wrong and it is the role of the police and the Department of Labour to act on the outcome of the inquiries. Not a role for union bully boys and not a place for them to be conducting a political campaign and using this company’s business for political grandstanding.

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  28. reid (16,509 comments) says:

    Grumpy and mickey who’s saying anything like what you suggest?

    That’s bollocks.

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  29. Swampy (191 comments) says:

    Hori, are you trying to make out these guys are union martyrs, like that fella at Waihi?

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  30. Swampy (191 comments) says:

    “A Department of Labour (DOL) spokesman said it was the employee’s choice to decide whether company lawyers or other representatives attended on DOL interviews.”

    Note that phrase OTHER REPRESENTATIVES, which might just happen to include, a union delegate or lawyer.

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  31. ben (2,380 comments) says:

    Is there no principle the unions will not abandon when it comes to beating up capitalists? Aren’t unions normally first in line to protect worker’s rights?

    Answer: yes, they are, but only because that argument usually works against the evil capitalists.

    Unions are fucking evil.

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