Andrew Little on Pike River

Written By: - Date published: 10:09 am, November 20th, 2015 - 54 comments
Categories: Andrew Little, class war, disaster, health and safety, workers' rights - Tags:


I was at Pike River mine the morning after the explosion that claimed the lives of 29 men.

It was five years ago and I remember that day vividly.

There was an eerie sense of foreboding; our union organiser was in a state of shock, big tough men were in tears.

I spoke to old-time miners who had worked there in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

From the start they were saying the men wouldn’t come out alive, that the mine had to be sealed. They knew how bad the mine was. But for many the mine meant food on the table and a house, so they didn’t let on.

Health and safety matters enormously to me and it is something I’ve fought for my whole career, as a lawyer and in the unions. Going to work knowing that you will come home again is a basic human right, and one that too many New Zealanders still can’t take for granted.

Something like Pike River should never happen again. Unfortunately there are still those out there who don’t care enough, who don’t understand, who think it is OK to take shortcuts with their workers’ lives.

It’s why we must allow workers to speak out, to have representatives in companies arguing for the best health and safety rules.

Some of our corporates do it beautifully. There are others who could learn from them, and from the Pike River tragedy of five years ago today.

I’m there again tonight, for the commemorative service; remembering the 29.

54 comments on “Andrew Little on Pike River”

  1. Anne 1

    What a difference between Andrew Little and John Key.

    One is remembering the terrible tragedy that is the Pike River mine and is there in person to do what he can for the victims and their families.

    The other is lording it on the global stage big noting himself and… not a thought for the misery and pain he and his government have inflicted upon so many NZers – in his/their personal quest for fame and fortune.

    • Lanthanide 1.1

      The right-wing perspective is that this government hasn’t inflicted misery and pain on anyone – those people have chosen to inflict it on themselves.

    • Rosie 1.2

      +1 Anne

    • upnorth 1.3

      that’s a silly comment – if Little was PM he would have international duties – grandstanding comment by you. The article about Little’s reflection not the PM day to day role.

      I could if I had the energy find numerous times PM was overseas when a special event was held back in NZ.

      My thoughts on Pike family god bless

      • Anne 1.3.1

        Nope. Nothing silly about at all. Little would not be grandstanding and playing the overgrown school boy oaf – ooheee everybody look at me, I’m Obama’s bestest friend. Little is way more mature than Key could ever be.

        My comment was a general observation and went beyond the current geographical location of them both, but I doubt you could stretch your brain to accommodate such cerebral gymnastics.

  2. Lanthanide 2

    ACC is for the first time sharing their workplace accident information with Worksafe (the successors to OSH).

    There are quite a few companies in the country who should be very worried about this information sharing – they’re going to have to up their game (significantly). They’re going to find themselves under very close scrutiny from Worksafe inspectors and are likely to be on the receiving end of many notices to improve and/or fines.

    • Rosie 2.1

      Interesting. I would have assumed ACC would have always shared workplace accident info with Worksafe and formerly the Dept of Labour – it would make sense to. Patterns of injury could be established and affected companies targeted for training and monitoring.

      I hope this new arrangement brings results.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        I am certain that it will bring results. Expect newspaper headlines next year, I think.

        • Pat

          …expect renewed pressure from certain quarters on the govt to remove ACC exclusivity me thinks

        • Sacha

          I expect it may cause pressure on workers of bad companies not to report accidents to ACC. ‘Here, have some cash under the table to get treated privately.’

  3. Rosie 3

    I’m enjoying what Andrew Little is saying of late: The speech at the conference, his reaction to the Paris attacks and this response to the 5th memorial day for the PIke 29. Every year it is so affecting because of the injustice and ongoing grief.

    I’m just a little confused about this sentence though:

    “I spoke to old-time miners who had worked there in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

    Pike River wasn’t built till towards the end of the first decade of the 2000’s. Perhaps those miners he spoke to had worked at other west coast mines and that’s what he was referring to?

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      I am assuming he means other mines on the West Coast since the 70’s and 80’s.

      My father and his brother grew up on the West Coast in Greymouth. They said that when they were kids, they often saw Mines Rescue personnel walking around town – in their heavy breathing gear and protective equipment. Simply walking around town was training for them – you needed to be incredibly fit to do the job.

      They both said that after the first explosions at the mine, they should have sent the mines rescue teams in. That’s what they’re trained to do. Instead we had an idiot country cop in charge who thought he was doing everyone a favour by refusing entry.

      • Rosie 3.1.1

        I can imagine Mines Rescue personnel became less visible in mining communities in recent decades as the roles of the mines inspectors diminished and less emphasis was placed upon safety. Perhaps, I’m only assuming.

        It’s interesting your father and brother said the Pike River mine should have been entered by rescue crew immediately after the explosion. I’ve read about that view before and indeed it has happened at other mines in the past, like Strongman mine.

        Is it something about the methane burning itself out in the initial explosion before it has a chance to build up again?

        That mine was one disaster after another, even at the end when it blew, the men were abandoned.

        • Lanthanide

          Yes, it’s exactly that when an explosion has occurred, its due to the concentration of gasses. Assuming all gas in the mine has exploded, and the rate of gas buildup has not changed (sometimes an explosion can cause a rockfall which could let more gas buildup again etc), there’s is a window of opportunity ranging from hours to days until the gas will build up to the unsafe level, during which the explosive gas hazard is minimal.

          There are of course still other huge hazards in a mine that has undergone an explosion, so it’s hardly ‘safe’, but the single biggest risk is substantially smaller.

          • Rosie

            Thanks for clarifying.

            Given all the ways in which the victims and the grieving families have been let down right from the day the mine opened, we really do have a duty to do so much more for them.

            • tracey

              We were in Greymouth the evening of one of the big announcements around pike river opening. The suits were ruddy with beer and backslapping. Seems a long time ago now. Mr Brownlie lauding it up but happy to leave wilkinson later as scapegoat.

        • weston

          abandoned three times and finaly after years abandoned permanently .pity the poor souls who still work in mines apparently mine rescue exists in name only.mine rescue aside nz abounds with keen cavers ever willing to undertake missions into the bowels of the earth did anyone call for volunteers ? Since the main shaft was carved through rock described by the engineers as eight times harder than concrete i imagine that most of that tunnel will still be ther e in a thousand years from now .society is becoming ever more risk averse and new worksafe rules will only accelerate that. Stop and wonder where wed be if noone was willing to risk there life for another anymore and would be penalized hugly by the law if they did so .The whole pike river thing makes me feel sick to the stomach and is one of the biggest indictments against the present national government.

      • greywarshark 3.1.2

        I think the cops were under orders from seat warmers in head office. They seem to take control of disaster areas to be run according to their own plans and systems.

        • Grindlebottom

          I hope we never see the like of that cop running things after any other comparable workplace disaster. He was so completely out of his depth it was excruciating to watch and to listen to him. He visibly just added to the stress & confusion of the families.

          • tracey

            Put in an awful.position… guided by peter whitall… a man of dubious character

            • Grindlebottom

              Tracey at the very best, he didn’t have the communication skills to handle the role he was given. Seriously deficient. They should’ve used someone else.

      • tracey 3.1.3

        My partner’s granddad was the dynamite guy on the Denniston Plateau.

      • Once was Tim 3.1.4

        You are EXACTLY right @Lanth. Although Cowan isn’t exactly an “idiot country cop” having been a detective in the Wgtn big smoke among other things, he certainly was out of his depth.
        And as I understand it, there were people with experience and expertise that were prepared, and did want to go in ASAP after the explosion and at least get an idea of whether proceeding further was viable.

        I never thought I’d be agreeing with you – although I’ll get over it :p

        • Lanthanide

          Was quoting the Australian journalist that came over and asked that question in a press conference, although he didn’t say “idiot”. He quickly flew back to Oz, but obviously this reporter knew enough to call a spade a spade, while the NZ media were too busy filling their column inches to attempt to hold those in charge to account.

  4. greywarshark 4

    I hate the bangs and explosions and sparks of Guy Fawkes and fireworks even when they are set pieces for some august occasion. If people can afford to spend inordinate amounts of money on momentary effects I think that all fireworks should have a 10% impost on them that goes to the Pike River compassionate trust.

    That would bring in money to them from people who obviously can afford to assist these people who have suffered from the very explosions that others desire to experience. It would make sure that the Pike River community’s shock, sorrow and future needs are not pushed under the carpet now the initial crocodile tears have dried.

    How about that Mr Little and Labour for an innovative idea. Better still is ban the bloody sale of these bloody fire, injury and noise makers, to the morons who want them. Then the wealthy operators paying for entertainment with fireworks can find the extra for Pike River. Then everybody would be advantaged.

    • Rosie 4.1

      Hmm, not sure about that idea greyrawshark. Maybe a bit kind of you know, inappropriate? Insensitive?

      Perhaps instead the $10 million the government plans on spending on a walkway over the Paparoa ranges and close to the mine could be spent on getting the men out of the mine?

      Even though the nat govt have the power and will to change anything, eg, sack a democratically elected board, ECAN, with the ultimate goal of assisting private profit because those pesky people on the board were all uppity about irrigation and getting in the way of profit, but when it comes to getting the men out of the mine they won’t.
      JK said just the other day Solid Energy said they can’t do it and he accepts that. If he really cared he would over ride that. Some of the families have been advised by overseas experts that it can be done. Anna Osbourne mentioned that in a meeting on the doco Women of Pike River. It’s interesting what the government cares about and doesn’t.

      That should be hugely insulting to the families of the Pike 29.

      And yes. Just go ahead and ban the public sale of fireworks. Anyone. Doesn’t matter whose in government. Just do it. For the sake of an overstretched volunteer fire service, for the sake of injured and traumatised animals, for the sake of protecting property and native bush, and the for the sake of a peaceful evening.

      • greywarshark 4.1.1

        You are right Rosie it is insensitive. That’s why it just might appeal to the armour-plated denizens of National. Don’t expect reasonable policy of a caring thoughtful nature from them. Or are you still? Might I say you are a little naive?

        It would be a good way to slide in the memory of a real tragedy and a travesty of policy by RW politicians and their fellow-travelling civil servants. If they were sensitive it would never have happened, then if remnants of sensitivity remained, more would have been done post-explosion.

        So stuff sensitivity, go for something that will produce money to help the bereaved, the injured, and the people in the area. That’s the direct, uncompromising way to think Rosie. Times will not get easier, so needs are to get stronger and more pushy.

        • Rosie

          Lols. I don’t for one moment “expect reasonable policy of a caring thoughtful nature from them”.

          Like I said, they can start by getting the men out of the mine. Some of the families have come to a place of acceptance that their loved ones will remain where they died. Others haven’t.

          If it can be done, and apparently it can, it’s morally wrong that we leave them there.

  5. OSH 5

    Yet, while Kate Wilkinson resigned in response to Pike River, Andrew Little still has former Ministers of Labour, Dyson & Mallard, in his Caucus. Both held the role while the Pike River situation was developing. AFAIK, neither has ever fronted on this issue.

  6. Tony Braun 6

    Fine words but where was he – and his union- when the guys were going into danger every day? They paid their dues but Little wasn’t there then to support them.
    And they had a safety officer. What was he doing?
    This was a massive failure of unions in Labour’s heartland.
    The families got more from John Key and the insurance companies than they ever did from Andrew Little’s Union.
    Shame on them. They failed their members.

    • mickysavage 6.1

      It was the union’s fault? You are joking …

    • Bullshit. PRC were vehemently anti-union and did everything they could to keep the EPMU out. When the site was finally unionised, PRC did everything it could to minimise union influence on the site. And they bribed workers and contractors with bonuses to leave safety hazards unreported.

      Realistically, there wasn’t much more the union could do, though I bet they wish they could have done more. In the last 5 years, the EPMU has spent nearly a million bucks supporting the families. They were the only party at the enquiry whose legal costs were not covered. Get that? Even the man responsible for killing the 29 had his lawyers paid for, but not the organisation that represented the workers.

      Ask West Coasters about the union. Ask the families. The truth is that the EPMU has the support of that community, then and now.

    • Sacha 6.3

      “And they had a safety officer”

      – who lost his own son in the explosion, you prick.

    • tracey 6.4

      You are an ignoramus. One who has probably applauded every erosion of union influence in the last 40 years… You obviously never read the report of the RC or you would know EXACTLY who was at fault…

      • Anne 6.4.1

        Right wing nutjobs don’t read reports tracey. They don’t read anything. Too hard on the brain. Best to live in ignorant bliss.

        Btw, he has an appropriate surname. All Braun brawn and no brain.

      • Rosie 6.4.2

        Thats what I was thinking, that he actually detests unions but blaming them is a damn fine line to exploit. As a Key fan he will take the opportunity where he can, flawed as it is, but that is no matter to him in his efforts to defend key

  7. Tony Braun 7

    So where was he? What did he do for them? Where were the protests? The demands for improved conditions?
    Easy enough for him to answer. There must be a swag of emails and letters.
    This was his big job. How well he did it will tell the country how fit he is to be PM.
    Or is he just another windbag?

    [For a new commentator you entered into troll mode really quickly. You clearly do not know what you are talking about. First warning – MS]

    • Rosie 7.1

      Hi Tony. In Rebecca McFie’s book, Tragedy at Pike River Mine she suggests the EPMU could have done more (pg. 180) however, and most importantly, the union was not welcome on site.

      Workers are, or were at that time, legally allowed to strike if they deem their health and safety to be at risk, had informed management but no action taken on the issue(s). This happened on one occasion. There was a walk out over a lack of mine vehicles available for evacuations in the event of an emergency.

      The union organiser at the time (not the same one as at the time of the explosion) supported the walk out only to be blasted the HR guy who not only threatened to sue the union but demanded that the organiser to instruct the men to get back to work. He rightly refused to do that.
      Men were discouraged from joining the EPMU for fear of harassment from the management. The EPMU wasn’t represented on the internal H&S committee and Peter Whittall is on record for being anti union and not wanting their presence in the mine.

      In such a situation you have a real power imbalance going on. Going in guns blazing was never going to work, it would only shut down any line of communication between the organiser and the workers and management.

      The responsibility for H&S lay with the company, not with the union. Had there been a proactive H&S culture and a professional management in place at the mine the EPMU may have been able to assist more and work to their true capacity.

      Your comment at 6 that the families got more from John Key than the union was offensive in the extreme. I don’t think you understand how betrayed they feel by him personally.

    • Rosemary McDonald 7.2

      And while you’re busy praising the wonderful support willingly given by “John Key and the insurance companies”, why don’t you listen…yes LISTEN to Bernie Monk speaking at yesterday’s commemoration?

      He says he had to deal with EIGHT different Ministers….

      He says he’s ashamed.

      HE is ashamed!

      FFS….you blind supporters of Key you be hanging your heads.

      • Rosie 7.2.1

        Agreed Rosemary. That was a disgraceful comment by Tony Braun. He is trying (and failing) to defend the indefensible.

        I wonder what he thinks about John Key’s supportive chat with Cameron Slater when Slater felt sorry for himself after he received backlash for his “feral” comment about the death of Judd Hall and JK referred to the mother, also grieving for another son lost to Pike River, as “that women who always f*cking screams at me in meetings”. That is downright abusive language and deeply disrespectful. I wonder what Tony Braun thinks is helpful about that.

        I’m pretty sure that Tony Braun has no idea what has been going on for the last five years or what happened in the time leading up to the explosion.

    • Grindlebottom 7.3

      Well, I did come across this item when googling to find out what union any Pike River miners belonged to. BTW, whose site is this? Anyone know? I couldn’t see any “about” link on it.

      I don’t think National was solely responsible for the piss poor state of OSH and Health and Safety legislation either, to be fair. The underfunding of the Mines Inspectorate and disorganised state of OSH was inherited I believe.

      Still, Labour strongly supports Corporate Manslaughter provisions which we do need.

      • Karen 7.3.1

        I can’t remember the name of the guy that wrote it but I came across the same article when I was trying to find out more about Little at the time of the leadership elections. I asked much the same question as you and was told that it was written by a guy who had been looking for reasons to attack Little since their time at Victoria University. More of a personal vendetta than an accurate analysis of the role of the EPMU..

        I recommend you read the excellent ” Tragedy at Pike River” (if you haven’t already) for a better analysis of those responsible the deaths at for Pike River. In fact, I think every NZer should read it.

      • tracey 7.3.2

        Did you the report of the Inquiry?

        Labour dropped the ball but National hd it in the bushes and put up signs pointing in a different direction.

        • Grindlebottom

          Yes, I did read the RC report, Tracey. I read it as soon as it came out. It was a while ago now. I also read a preceding internal review report commissioned by the DoL into its own performance which I thought was a classic whitewash, praised its commitment to an overload of meaningless management bullshit and checklists and exonerated itself from its obvious inadequacies in the Mines Inspection area.

  8. Tony Braun 8

    So you are all telling me Andrew Little was cowed, excluded, intimidated, defeated, by people like Peter whatever his name was.
    This is the man who wants to be PM?
    Come on.
    This was the biggest issue for the unions in the last few years and where was the union? Where was Andrew Little?

    • Rosie 8.1

      “Peter whatever his name was”.

      It is Peter Whitall. If you knew even the basics about Pike River you would know that at least.
      You also have no understanding of how unions work. It’s not the job of the secretary to get personally involved with specific sites, that’s what the organsier’s for. And if you had read te reo putake’s comment you would see how much involvement EPMU has had in supporting the families.
      You also forget that there were many contractors working in that mine and the mine was not strongly unionised. As it’s already been pointed out several times the union wasn’t welcome and the men were discouraged from joining the union. How can you represent when you don’t have members? It is the members that are the “union”. Unions work from the bottom up, not top down. The power base is with the membership.

      You’re kind of embarrassing yourself here Tony. You sound like you comment on the stuff website.

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