Our thoughts are with the families of the 29 men killed at Pike River Mine two years ago as the Royal Commission of Inquiry delivers its report.
Archive for the ‘Mining’ Category
Today we remember the men and families of Pike River Mine.
Twelve months ago, 29 men went to work in the Pike River Mine and never came home. Their families and community are still waiting for answers. The whole country is.
On the anniversary of their deaths, we join together with the families and the wider West Coast community to commemorate their loss.
Phil Goff says it has been a particularly difficult time for all those affected as they wait to see whether their loved ones can be recovered and it is important that we do everything humanly possible to give them closure.
“I have had the privilege of spending time with some of the families over the past year and I know today will be extremely difficult for them.
“On behalf of Damien O’Connor and all of my Labour colleagues, I would like to pay our respects to all those affected in this time of grief.
“I know the process of the Royal Commission investigating the disaster is a terribly difficult one for all involved. But I hope that it will allow us to learn from what has happened and avoid a tragedy of this nature occurring again.
“On this day, our thoughts and our hearts are with those affected by the terrible loss of the men and the impact it has had on the lives of all those who knew them.”
Two minutes silence at 3.44pm. Mourn the dead, but together we must resolve to fight for the living so this never happens again.
Phil Goff got a great reception at the CTU conference this morning.
His speech was inspiring – while it is available on line, you had to be there to really get a sense of how well Labour’s message is going down with workers.
There’s much more to come on savings, skills, jobs, wages and social policy, but today’s announcement was for the miners.
Two days ago, the Minister of Labour announced she was implementing a High Hazards Unit in the Department of Labour which will double from two to four the number of Labour Inspectors in the Mining industry. Everyone is pleased about this, even if it took a lot of pressure to get the Minister to do anything.
But there is more to Mine Safety than having a well-resourced inspectorate. There also need to be strong regulations and worker check inspectors on the job.
Today, Phil announced that we will reinstate check inspectors and model new NZ regulations on Queensland’s mining safety regulations.
Queensland’s regulations are very comprehensive, and the underground section contains provisions for emergencies, rescue and communication, electrical equipment and installations, explosives and explosive power tools, gas monitoring, mechanical, mine design, mining operations, ventilation and working environment.
Until they were removed by the National government in 1992, check inspectors were democratically-elected miners, responsible solely for the safety of workers with the power, amongst others, to order the immediate withdrawal of miners from a mine or part of a mine that the check inspector deems dangerous. Check inspectors were (and are in Australia) experienced senior miners who have the trust of their fellow workers. Unlike company employed health and safety staff, check inspectors are responsible to the miners, not the company.
This is a great announcement. It was well received today, particularly by the Miner’s Union, the EPMU, who have pushed hard for real change to mine safety in New Zealand.
And before anyone goes there, yes Labour didn’t reverse National’s changes to mine safety. We made significant change to National’s awful Health and Safety laws, but it wasn’t enough. We know that. And that’s why we will do something about it.
The findings of the Royal Commission into the Pike River disaster won’t be released until 2013. Labour doesn’t believe we should wait until then to take action.
If not, it should be.
Read this story today on the Commission of inquiry into the Pike River Mine tragedy and you will understand why.
This isn’t new evidence. There have been questions asked of the Minister, both in the House and in Select Committee about the Minister’s rejection of the 2009 recommendations. Both Damien O’Connor and I have tabled letters from her or her department specifically rejecting a regulatory change to introduce check inspectors, and an improved code of practice for employee participation in the mining sector.
The Minister told the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee just a couple of weeks ago that one of the recommendations she did take up was improving employee participation in mining health and safety. Yet her department confirmed that two and a half years later, they have yet to begin any work on this. And this is at the same time, the budget for training workplace health and safety representatives has been slashed.
We also asked the Minister asked about the number of mining inspectors. Turns out there are two; one based in Dunedin, and one based in Westport, and they cover the South Island between them, as well as North Island mines.
I’m not demanding perfection here. Mistakes were made. But the thing to do is own up and ensure they never happen again.
Not our Kate. The Minister is now hiding behind the Commission of Inquiry to refuse to answer direct questions in the House.
That’s not good enough. If the Minister isn’t prepared to do her job, she should resign and let someone else do it who will put the safety of miners first.
It’s been a full-on week. So much happening and so many issues : Ministers in Select Committees, long debates in the House on the Telco Bill, announcements in Christchurch, the Te Tai Tokerau by-election and of course dear Alasdair. Here’s a few extra snippets from question time this week that you may not have picked up.
John Key ruled out implementing the Queensland regulatory standards for mine safety as an interim measure despite mouthing off to an Australian newspaper about Pike River and family members of Pike River miners calling for increased mine inspection.
Paula Bennett repeated that she thinks any job is a good job, citing the example of a “young woman, who at 52 years of age was proud to be a checkout chick”, while at the same time revealing she’s up to her neck in the government’s revisiting of youth rates.
Annette King asked the PM why he was prepared to wine, dine, chauffeur, change the law and suck up to Warner Bros to save jobs in the movie industry and now the gambling industry, but but has turned his back on hard-working railway workers who can build wagons and carriages in New Zealand and keep their jobs? Guess what, no answer.
Kate Wilkinson told Jacinda Ardern that the government has a cogent plan, which when probed, said it was basically about building a stronger economy. Doh.
Nick Smith told us that training workplace health and safety representatives was a “touchy feely notion”, despite his government expressing concerns about NZ’s high workplace deaths and injuries and saying employee participation in health and safety is critical.
Kate Wilkinson said she was aware that for “those people on the minimum wage we are aware budgeting is tight”, but ruled out increasing the minimum wage calling $15 an hour “a high minimum wage”.
David Cunliffe asked if the PM thought the public would be pleased to learn that without any mandate, his government has budgeted $6 million to spend before the election on preparing to sell assets.
Oh and I was at a dinner on Monday night where a certain Alasdair Thompson had been invited. But that’s another story.
Today (28th April) is International Workers Memorial Day, where we remember the workers killed, injured or made unwell by their work. This is the day where we mourn those who have died and pledge to fight for the living.
I was in Christchurch today at the memorial service, and there were others around the country, including on the West Coast, in another sad remembrance of the 29 miners killed at Pike River Mine last year.
In Christchurch, workers killed and injured were just going about their daily jobs and were the innocent victims of a cataclysmic event.
We can’t say that about Pike River. This was no unavoidable accident and we must know what caused it, how it could be prevented in the future and what a government’s responsibility for that should be. I will be in Blackball on Saturday for another commemoration – where I will have the chance to hear directly from those most affected.
Unfortunately, today Brash’s coup dominates the media, so you won’t read about these memorial events. You won’t hear about the workers who lost their lives last year in workplace accidents, including the Pike River MIners. You won’t hear about the 700 workers who die prematurely from work related illness or disease every year. You won’t hear about the 200,000 workers who suffer serious harm in the workplace each year.
If these were crime statistics, it would be leading the news and the Sensible Sentencing Trust would be calling for blood.
Despite decades of action by unions, workers and pro-worker governments which have resulted in significant improvements to safer working conditions, the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths in New Zealand workplaces remains too high. Many of these deaths and injuries are easily preventable, but the relentless pursuit of the bottom line costs workers in more than pay and conditions.
Tight economic conditions mean some businesses take shortcuts and workers bear the consequences. Most at risk are those who work on their own account, or as dependent contractors, where the struggle to make ends meet is tougher than it’s been in years. It’s no accident that the construction, fishing, forestry and agriculture industries have a much higher percentage of accidents in New Zealand workplaces.
New Zealand’s history of workplace health and safety also has a legacy we must face up to. The workplace injuries didn’t just happen in the last year. There are hundreds of thousands of workers who suffered injuries on the job in their former working lives. I meet them all the time – the old factory workers, the forestry workers, the labourers, who suffered harm at work as younger men or women, and now are bewildered to find that the support they were receiving from our world-class ACC system has been cut.
Try explaining to someone whose worked hard all of his life, who lost his hearing because of workplace conditions and lack of prevention, that he should no longer qualify for ACC funding to upgrade his fading hearing aid, because Nick Smith has decided his injury is due to “degenerative” conditions.
Today, on Workers Memorial Day, we remember those who have been lost or injured at work. We can only imagine what it is like to say goodbye to a loved one at the beginning of the working day and not have them return at the end. It shouldn’t happen.
It’s a day that we join with others to renew our determination to work together for safer workplaces.
That’s what I’ve been doing today.
I’ve been mulling this over for a few days.
There’s a lot of unanswered questions about Pike River. The Royal Commission is yet to begin hearings and that process is important. But there’s been some strange utterances about Pike River in the last week.
Most strange has been John Key’s pronouncement about sealing the mine and Gerry Brownlee’s back-tracking from that position.
Last Thursday, Police Commissioner Howard Broad said at the Greymouth media conference:
Based on all this advice it would have been quite wrong for the Police to hold out great hope that the men will be recovered and I have decided that the recovery phase of this operation will come to a conclusion. The means of concluding this operation is by handing the mine back to the receiver who controls Pike River Coal Mine. I have written to the receiver today, outlining this point, and inviting him to immediately reply to this step.
On Friday, John Key endorsed that decision, saying the recovery plan had failed and there was no credible way to retrieve the bodies. He said:
The Government was fully committed to doing everything we could to making sure the bodies were removed and that full closure could be achieved for those families but that’s just not possible and its not an issue of money or time or commitment.
He said it was “likely” the mine would now be sealed but it was up to the mine company receivers, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Mr Key cited the fact the decision was based on the views of three independent experts and on international advice.
Yet, on Monday, the receivers said work to stabilise the mine would continue for five to eight more weeks.
And then, just to complicate things, on Tuesday, Gerry Brownlee said this (reported by Marie McNicholas from Newsroom):
I don’t think there has been any lack of clarity about what’s going on.
I think there has been a range of interpretations that have been unhelpful in all of this.
When you boil it all down you are talking about a group of people who have lost their loved ones in the most tragic of circumstances. They went to work and they didn’t come home. How do you expect people to simply accept that that’s it; it’s all over?”
He blamed a “somewhat literal” interpretation of what sealing a mine meant for the confusion over Prime Minister John Key’s view that the mine would probably be sealed.
Mr Key had not meant the mine would be locked up for good, Mr Brownlee said.
Um… when someone talks about sealing a mine, I know what I think. What exactly did John Key mean? And why is Gerry covering for him?
There was a good editorial in yesterday’s NZ Herald. Read it
Last night, TV3’s 60 minutes screened its investigation into mining safety called Blood on the Coal. If you missed it, you should watch it. It’s sad and it’s disturbing.
The EPMU have again called for the issue of mine check inspectors to be put before the Commission of Inquiry, saying that ‘Blood on the Coal’ highlighted that having check inspectors at the Pike River mine might have made the difference between safety and tragedy.
A check inspector is an elected, experienced, qualified and trained miner who can immediately order the withdrawal of worker from the mine or part of the mine believed to be dangerous to life or injurious to health (as determined by the inspector), or order immediate discontinuance of any dangerous practice, or order evacuation of the mine in emergency situations. They inspect the mine every two weeks or on a miner’s request regarding a dangerous condition or practice, and report in writing to the mine manager; they support health and safety representatives and committees in the development of safety cases and make recommendations to the department (of Labour) regarding granting/withdrawing any high risk activity license.
EPMU National Secretary, Andrew Little says :
“The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, needs to dust off the work done in 2008 on this and other mine safety issues and put it in front of the Commission. We owe it to the 29 men who died in the Pike River coal mine and the rest of the 7,270 people that work in mining sector to do this.”
“Elected check inspectors were experienced miners with special safety responsibilities and checking functions in mines, but they were scrapped despite warnings at the time that doing so would risk the sort of disaster that happened at Pike River mine on 19 November.”
“The deregulation of health and safety in coal mines in 1992 by the then National Government replaced a prescriptive approach that included a mechanism for workers’ safety concerns to be aired with an open-ended system in which the workers’ voice has been devalued.”
“Even in other countries, like the UK and Australia, which introduced less prescriptive overall health and safety legislation, they made sure it was supplemented with detailed regulation for clearly hazardous industries like underground mining.”
“The EPMU has campaigned on behalf of miners for the reinstatement of check inspectors since 1992, renewing its call for them in the aftermath of workplace deaths in the Black Reef and Roa mines on the West Coast in 2006. Subsequent changes to the Health and Safety in Employment Act have failed to fill the gap in the system left since then.”
“The 2008 review of mine safety ordered by then Minister of Labour Trevor Mallard was on track to carefully examine the case for reintroducing check inspectors, but after a change of government in 2008 the new Minister of Labour, National’s Kate Wilkinson, failed to address the gap in the system and chose not to reintroduce check inspectors.”
I hope the government’s listening.
I hope Coasters aren’t getting up any hopes for a Government cash injection to help them recover from the Pike River disaster and closure.
Yesterday in the House Gerry Brownlee continued to flannel on the Government’s abject failure to provide any ongoing assistance to his own Christchurch business community after the quake. http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Business/QOA/3/2/1/49HansQ_20101215_00000004-4-Earthquake-Canterbury-Business-Recovery.htm
His answer is that these businesses need more customers. The Government’s response is a pathetic $100,000 cash grant. So if that’s all a region of more than half a million can expect, the Coast with less than a tenth of that population will be getting any cash stimulation paid in silver coinage.
Gerry’s boss, the Teflon smile and wave man will continue hoping that no media commentator takes him to task about the commitment he gave in the week after the quake that the Government “will do whatever it takes” to assist Canterbury after the nation’s biggest-ever natural disaster.
Meantime, visits today to another couple of businesses in the CBD of my electorate continue to tell me that they are angry and let down by a Government they mostly voted for. Should make for an interesting meeting tomorrow morning at 7.30 called by struggling SME owners with the city’s politicians.
As if losing 29 of their workmates weren’t enough, the remaining workers at Pike River Mine now face a bleak Christmas with the Company going into liquidation.
Pike River Coal chairman John Dow announced today that New Zealand Oil & Gas had appointed a receiver to the company at the request of the board of Pike River Coal, with John Fisk, David Bridgman and Malcolm Hollis, partners from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, being appointed as the mine’s receivers.
This was on the cards from day one of the disaster and I understand contractors were laid off almost immediately – with nothing.
But there’s now doubt as to whether the miners directly employed by Pike River Coal will get their one month of notice paid out, redundancy payments and any other entitlements such as holiday pay.
I know the Company’s not a charity, but for goodness sake – surely they could have waited until after Christmas?
Ross Wilson is a former President of the CTU and Chair of the ACC. He is an experienced lawyer.
He has probably forgotten more about Health and Safety than anyone else in New Zealand has ever known.
While I’m not as cynical about Peter Whittall as Matt McCarten is today I don’t think it is right to deify him either.
There is already a lack of credibility around what now appears to be a combined Police Department of Labour investigation.
Therefore it is important that someone with real New Zealand health and safety experience is on rather than just giving evidence to the Commission.
Ross is the obvious choice.
Decide that the New Zealand economy needs a “step change” and that mining on the conservation estate is the way to achieve it. Ignore the “sustainable” part of the sustainable economic development. (How many times can you mine gold?)
Blame Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm for being emotional, then note that 30,000 others begged to differ by marching down Queen Street, Auckland with them.
Then argue internally. Then stage a complete U-turn, claiming it wasn’t really a U-turn at all.
There has been a bit of comment yesterday and today (including from Guyon Espiner on TV1) that Gerry Brownlee “over-reached” himself when it came to the mining of Schedule 4 land. I certainly think that Gerry failed miserably to sell the policy, but its a bit harsh to blame him for over-reaching when we have this from the John Key’s opening statement to Parliament in February this year.
Notwithstanding the public consultation process, it is my expectation that the Government will act on at least some of these recommendations and make significant changes to Schedule 4. This is because new mining on Crown land has the potential to increase economic growth and create jobs.
That is an unequivocal commitment to major changes to Schedule 4 and to new mining. Gerry was only acting with that in mind. I still think that by the time they got to announcing anything they planned to use Great Barrier as a bit of a stalking horse, but the initial blush of enthusiasm was very much John Key’s. Which is why it was so interesting he tried to get as far away as possible from this policy disaster today.
As an aside in Parliament today the pressure of this and the industrial relations package was telling on Mr Key. He got very side-tracked by interjections, launched into Darren about his hair (he may have a point on that score ;-)) and at one stage totally tossed his toys and sat down in the middle of an answer. Tough day at the office.
I really am happy that the Government’s ill-conceived plan to mine our most precious conservation land looks as if it has been shelved. Even though I am sure there was never a plan to do anything on Great Barrier, overall it is a great victory. But where to now in terms of the “step-change” for the economy? The big Jobs Summit delivered almost nothing but a cycleway that might sound good, but has delivered a handful of jobs. The mining was the next big idea, but the government appears to have backed right out of that. What we are left with is tax cuts and trickle down economics. This ain’t no step change.
And to answer the question before its asked. This is the time for investment in a clean green, high tech economy that builds on our traditional strengths, and opens up new opportunities.
This video is produced by the CFMEU – the Miners Union in Australia, in response to the whingeing about Rudd’s mining windfall tax. Good on the Miners’ Union for taking a progressive stance on this.
As for NZ – remind you of anything in our past (or present)?
Aucklanders turned out in force at today’s march against the Government’s plan to dig up some of our most precious landscapes. The Herald and Radio NZ estimated the crowd at 50,000. Police said 20,000. Either way it is a kick in the pants for National and ACT and the Maori Party. Hats off to Greenpeace and Forest & Bird and the others who organised it. Robyn Malcolm spoke at the rally in Myers Park. What a treasure she is. Labour and Green MPs were there in number, and from our lot: Phil Goff, David Cunliffe, Charles Chauvel, Jacinda Ardern, Darien Fenton, Carol Beaumont, Carmel Sepuloni, David Shearer and me. Labour’s policy of rolling back any changes to Schedule 4 and not compensating mining companies who find their operations shut down got a big cheer. Check out Greenpeace’s pics on flickr. Photo: Greenpeace
I’m sick to death of the horrible right wing spin doctors (don’t use that phrase very often) trying to have everyone believe that Labour has suddenly become anti-mining.
Labour isn’t anti-mining.
Our party has a strong history of supporting the rights of miners and was born from the Blackball “Crib time Strike” after the Arbitration Court had refused to lengthen the coalminer’s lunch break from 15 minutes to half an hour.
In 1908, seven workers went on strike and refused a command to return to their jobs. When the group was fired, fellow workers joined the strike. The management agreed to the longer break. The strike showed the rest of New Zealand that collection action was effective. As a result the Red Feds were established, and from them the Federation of Labour and the NZ Labour Party evolved.
Labour does however oppose mining in our national parks, and land that has been determined to be schedule four in the Crown Minerals Act because of its highly conservation values. It’s that simple. We don’t oppose mining. We do oppose mining on our precious land.
The government is disingenuous on this issue and I reckon most New Zealanders know it.
Over Easter I went tramping. Just a short sojourn as I didn’t have a lot of time (and was a bit worried about some under-used bodyparts).
Nelson Lakes National Park. My first time. Have done a lot in the Nelson region, but never the Lakes.
Unprovoked discussion in the huts at night about mining. Widespread dismay about the government plans to mine in our conservation estate. Even the overseas tourists had heard about it. Lots of shaking of heads.
Of course you’d expect that people who go tramping would not approve of mining our national parks. But lots of people go tramping. Lots of people are related to people who go tramping.
And lots of tourists go tramping. And they go home and talk about their experiences. It’s that old watercooler thing…
The government should beware. As I imagine it already is.
PS: Not happy about the silent beech forests. Where are those birds? And also not happy about the wasps. Other than that it was magic. And my bodyparts seemed to cope.
PPS: Note That I was in the bush as a proud supporter of South Dunedin (and the whole of the Dunedin Sth electorate). And had the t-shirt to prove it!
After seeing the strong response to a letter from a constituent in East Auckland on the mining issue yesterday, I thought it would be also valuable to share this one with Red Alert readers. Yesterday’s one is focused on enviornment while this one on the “take”:
I have long thought that the “take” by overseas mining companies is grossly excessive.
It was brought out very clearly on the television the other night, when piles of gold bars taken by the mining company was matched against what New Zealand got out of the deal. It was something like 95 -to -5% !!!
There is a saying in business that your reputation is your most valuable asset and it must be protected. If that is the case the government has self-inflicted enormous damage to New Zealand with its plans for mining of sensitive conservation land.
The Economist magazine is highly critical of the government plans in an on-line article. It takes a look at the current government’s overall environmental record
From an environmentalist’s perspective, though, these positives are outweighed by much larger negatives. The emissions-trading scheme excludes agricultural emissions until 2015, and its generous allocations of free carbon credits to business have been lambasted by environmentalists. The country’s transport strategy favours road-building over already-scant public transport, and there is much talk of the need to ease resource-management rules that act as barriers to business. In February, the government revealed it was considering opening some of the country’s pristine public land up for mining—an activity to which the dwarves in “The Hobbit” are much given, but which is not popular with more elvish sensibilities. Energetic lobbying by environmental groups forced it to scale back the amount of land under consideration, but on March 22nd it announced that it still intended to open 7,000 hectares of conservation land to mining, with other conservation areas to be surveyed for their mineral potential.
As the article says there is a struggle for many countries to balance environmental and economic objectives. To do this requires seeing sustainable growth as the only form of growth that can work for us. This government is going in the other direction, and the dangers for New Zealand are there for all the world to see.
But it is particularly acute in a country so dependent on the export of commodities and landscape-driven tourism. The difference between New Zealand and other places is that New Zealand has actively sold itself as “100% Pure”. Now that New Zealanders themselves are acknowledging the gap between the claim and reality, and the risk to their reputation this poses, it is time for the country to find itself a more sustainable brand, and soon.
This is a crucial issue for New Zealand, but the government seems hell-bent on 19th century solutions, rather than investing in 21st century opportunities which combine our natural resources with smart ideas. The damage to us internationally is going to be hard to undo if National go ahead with their plans.