EPMU and Pike River

November 13th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

This got covered by others last week, but worth a mention here. Steven Cowan at Against the Current blogs:

This statement represents a complete change of heart by the EPMU officialdom for it was never critical of  Coal (PRC) during the time that  the mine was open.   The EPMU represented approximately half of the 140 miners on the site. 

After the first explosion the EPMU strongly  defended the management of PRC. 

EPMU National secretary Andrew Little (now a Labour MP)  told the New Zealand Herald on November 22  2010 that   there was ‘nothing unusual about Pike River or this mine that we’ve been particularly concerned about‘.

He then appeared on TVNZ’s  Close Up  to again defend PRC management.

He told Close Up that underground mining was inherently unsafe and the risk of gas explosions, particularly on the West Coast, was high.

While the industry was aware of the risks and took the necessary precautions, unfortunately these kinds of incidents still happened, he argued.

And further:

On November 26, 2010 the Dominion Post  ran an article that   denounced  ‘wild’  rumours that the mine was not safe. It declared  that  “Any suggestion of obvious or known safety lapses does not find traction with unionised staff or union leader Andrew Little.’

Andrew Little’s conciliatory views toward  PRC management were echoed by Labour MP Damien O’Connor. He suggested that no one was responsible for the accident and that the  disaster was ‘just one of these things that the West Coast unfortunately has had to get used to over the years’. …

But despite the overwhelming evidence that there was  something seriously and dangerously wrong at the Pike Rive rnine, the officials of the  EPMU did nothing. 

The mine opened in November 2008  and on not  one occasion did the EPMU  initiate   industrial action or even  criticise PRC’S  safety standards, even after a group of workers  walked off the job to protest the lack of basic emergency equipment.

The walk out by miners was revealed by miner  Brent Forrester. He  told TVNZ’s Sunday  on December 5 2010 that  he once helped organise a walkout of about 10 miners to protest the lack of basic emergency equipment, including stretchers and an emergency transport vehicle. They received no support from the EPMU .  Andrew Little  even insisted that  PRC ‘ had a good health and safety committee that’s been very active.’

It was exactly this benevolent attitude  by the EPMU that allowed PRC – and the Department of Labour – to continue as if it was just ‘business a usual’. It appears that no-one was  protecting the interests and concerns of the workers on the mining site.  The EMPU failed to organise industrial action  to address safety concerns  at the  mine in favour of  ‘cooperating’ with management, what it and the CTU sometimes  refer to as ‘modern unionism’.

There won’t be any resignations from within the EPMU for dereliction of duty and, of course, Andrew Little  has escaped to Parliament.

I think the Royal Commissions recommendations should be implemented, unless there are massively good reasons not to. But it is worth noting that the suggestion that union sift inspectors would have prevented this tragedy may be more wishful thinking than reality.

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10 Responses to “EPMU and Pike River”

  1. BeaB (1,944 comments) says:

    I have been waiting for him to lead the charge in Parliament on this but now I understand his silence. As head of the EPMU at the time he should be on his hind legs, speaking up for his former members and for the safety of workers in the future.
    How quickly they forget!
    How quickly a different paymaster determines their principles!
    How shameful the record of the Labour Party on this tragic event.

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  2. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    He should be hounded about this bigtime…..Whale…..next weeks front page for truth just popped up…..

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  3. Sam Buchanan (498 comments) says:

    “The EMPU failed to organise industrial action to address safety concerns at the mine in favour of ‘cooperating’ with management, what it and the CTU sometimes refer to as ‘modern unionism’.”

    Unfortunately true. Most unions have given up on representing workers’ interests and prefer to curry favour with the management, while workers foot the bill. Pike River being a favoured project by the Labour Party is likely to have blunted the EPMU’s criticisms as well.

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  4. In Vino Veritas (136 comments) says:

    Mike Smith where are you? A few days ago you were quick to claim that Unions have no power, and couldnt be held accountable. It would appear that the EPMU has (1) stuck up for PRC management and (2) ignored the evidence in front of them.

    The EPMU has the following on its website:
    “Health and Safety is of central concern to our Union. It is a basic right for everyone to work in a safe working environment. We organise for a safe and healthy working environment so our members can return home safely at the end of each day…..”

    That worked, didnt it?

    Andrew Little, time to front up.

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  5. Sam Buchanan (498 comments) says:

    Of course, if the EPMU had taken industrial action they’d have been slammed as old school cloth cap unionists who should be working with management instead of being confrontational etc. etc. ad infinitum…

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  6. Reid (15,505 comments) says:

    Of course, if the EPMU had taken industrial action they’d have been slammed as old school cloth cap unionists who should be working with management instead of being confrontational etc.

    Of course we would have slammed them Sam. But at least then the EPMU would have able with honesty to promulgate the bullshit line they’re currently disingenuously promulgating since the report was released, which is that the heroic union was fighting for health and safety throughout and it was all ignored.

    Which didn’t happen, did it. No, it didn’t. So why are they saying that Sam? Why are they lying to us? It’s a shame the govt can’t submit questions to opposition MPs, isn’t it. That would be quite an interesting one to Little wouldn’t it.

    Of course if they had any integrity they wouldn’t do this, not with this. It’s like playing politics with the Cave Creek tragedy. You don’t make political mileage nor attempt to spin, over something like this, if you have integrity.

    But that’s what fanaticism does for one, isn’t it. Anything for the cause, and the cause makes anything and everything OK. The means justify the end. The cause. The Holy Grail.

    Don’t know about you Sam but people who do that make we want to vomit. Especially when you calculate that the cynical pricks were only keeping quiet for Liarbore’s sake, that’s why they never said anything. For their cause, they were prepared to risk their member’s lives.

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  7. annie (533 comments) says:

    You can’t expect professional urban unionists like the EPMU to effectively represent miners. The Miners Union was the first formed in NZ for a good reason – mine safety. Private coal mines in the first half of the 20th century in NZ had poor safety records and high accident rates, which the unions vigorously addressed. By the 1950s, State Coal ran most or all the mines and safety was taken very seriously, aided by worker communication with the mine management, anonymously via the union representatives or disputesmen working onsite.

    Privatising mines and farming out mines unions, together with loosening of the inspection regime, are all part of the problems that led inevitably to the Pike River disaster. The workers presumably didn’t make a noise about safety for fear of losing their jobs – mines jobs on the west coast being difficult to come by.

    A dedicated miners’ union would have been constantly all over safety issues, and the EPMU has to take its share of the blame for the scandalous disregard for safety at the mine. Yes, mining is inherently risky, but Little’s comments are a disgrace. What a selfserving weasel.

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  8. Reid (15,505 comments) says:

    What a self serving weasel.

    Hear hear. He reminds me of smarmy Maharey.

    Very smarmy.

    For all Helen Kelly’s attitudes which IMO are 100% incorrect I sense personally she has integrity, which is the polar opposite of my sense of smarmy weasel. Let’s hope he reads this.

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  9. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    It is good to see this aired. It should not stop here.

    I think the case of ‘cloth capped’ unionism is a good point. This incident indicates how far the union movement has fallen, and how it is now part of an endemically corrupt system – and little to do with workers’ safety and condition, more about the political ambitions of its leaders..

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  10. mikenmild (8,723 comments) says:

    There may be a problem with the current process for making unions the default mechanism for involving workers in the health and safety systems. It is possible that this make health and safety too much of a routine issue for union involvement and becomes another box ticking exercise – “met with H&S committee – all good – meet again in 6 months”.

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