EPMU and Pike River

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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