Unions attacking Whittall

Fresh from the PR triumph of attacking Sir Peter Jackson, the continues its strategy of winning over the public by targeting .

The Press reports:

Council of Trade Unions president told a Canterbury Workers Educational Association function in Christchurch on Friday that Whittall should have apologised for the tragedy.

“He’s now been called a national hero, but he’s the CEO of that company and he hasn’t apologised,” she said.

“Even if the company did everything right, if it was me, I’d say: `I’m the employer. This has happened and I’m really sorry. I don’t know why, but I’m going to find out why’. But he hasn’t said that.”

Questions about what happened had not been asked, Kelly said.

“This is a very serious event. That mine was open for just over a year. There are 29 miners dead. We’ve got to be more mature about who we honour, how we think about things, what we demand. If that had been public Department of Conservation [land] we would have gone after them and said what had happened.

“But because it’s a company and because the CEO gets to sit next to the Prime Minister at the memorial service, the hard questions have not been asked.”

The CTU just don’t get it. Peter Whittall would not have insisted he be on the stage and one of the speakers at the memorial service. The PM would not have decided who the speakers are. I’m bet you that it was at the request of the miners families, that Whittall was on the stage as one of the speakers.

I’ve remarked on radio how unusual it is that the CEO of the mine where 29 people died has become a national hero. This must be very frustrating for the unions. But the reality is it is the way Whittall conducted himself that has won people over.

But he would know, that admiration for his post-explosion performance, will not protect him if it transpires that has some culpability for what happened. Admiration for fronting up does not remove accountability and responsibility.

But this is why we have a Royal Commission – to establish the facts. I think it is unwise for various unions to already be trying to denigrate Whittall.

They have not been alone there. Cindy Baxter of Greenpeace facebooked soon after the tragedy a list of Directors, labelling them “the people who developed the mine that just killed 29 people”. An extra-ordinary rush to judgement.

We also had a Labour MP on day one of the explosion tweet about how the company must be asked the hard questions to prevent a cover-up and how the unions are key to this. This was before we even knew if anyone was dead.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) national secretary Andrew Little acknowledged Whittall had not sought hero status, but said failures on the part of mine managers or “the guys underground” could have caused the disaster.

“We need to reserve judgment until we get credible answers to questions about why it all happened.

“The company has been treated as somewhat heroic and in a way I think it’s somewhat undeserving.”

Little is correct in saying we need to reserve judgement. My admiration for Whittall’s response to the explosion in no way means that Pike River Coal should not be held accountable if the facts warrant it.

I think Andrew is wrong though in saying the company has been treated as somewhat heroic. Whittall has been, but he is not the company. People have empathised with the fact he knew every single miner killed – in fact had employed them all, and so obviously grieved for them.

In yesterday’s HoS, Matt McCarten had the same theme:

under his watch, 29 men were killed and still lie entombed. Family members and friends of the dead have been robbed of a loved one. Many other workers, as a result of the explosion, will lose their livelihoods.

Unbelievably, the chief executive of this company becomes a media darling.

He did not become a “media darling” for what happened. He gained respect because he did what so many people say they want CEOs to do – he fronted up constantly, he did not spin, he did not lie, he told the truth. He was real.

If you have followed the media coverage you’d think the whole tragedy was just an unavoidable accident.

On the contrary, I think no such thing.

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