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It Wasn’t the Workers or Unions Misusing their Power that Killed the Pike River Miners – CTU Submission

Written By: - Date published: 6:57 pm, July 31st, 2013 - 4 comments
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Tomorrow we will deliver our Submission on the Legislation implementing the recommendations of the Pike River Inquiry. Despite the PM saying all the recommendations would be implemented – the legislation falls well short on the issue of tripartism for the Governance of the new agency WorkSafe.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Pike and the Governments Independent Taskforce into Workplace Health and Safety both recommended a new stand along specialist health and safety agency be set up to remove the responsibility from MBIE for health and safety based on the successful UK model. Both determined it should be run on a tripartite basis.

The Taskforce said:

Our vision is that tripartism is inculcated throught the workplace health and safety system. … The Royal Commission found that a key reason for the DOL being an ineffective regulatory body was that it has ‘no shared responsiblty at governance level, including the absence of an active tripartite body”

The Taskforce recommended a Governance structure with at least 2 business and 2 union nominees included.

The Board structure in the proposed legislation reads:

WorkSafe New Zealand’s board
(1) The Minister must appoint at least 5, but not more than 9, persons as members of the board.
(2) When appointing a member of the board, the Minister must have regard to the need to ensure that WorkSafe New Zealand
has among its members persons who have, collectively, know-ledge and experience of, and capability in, the following:
(a) public sector governance:
(b) central government processes:
(c) New Zealand’s workplace health and safety environ-
ment, including workplace illness and occupational dis-
ease:
(d) perspectives of workplace participants:
(e) administration of workplace health and safety legisla-
tion and risk management frameworks:
(f) business generally.

The appalling record of health and safety in New Zealand hasn’t come about because of unions or workers misusing voice or power allowing workplaces to become unsafe. It is widely acknowledged now that the severe failings at Pike River and in other industries such as forestry occur when management, boards of directors and the regulator disregard the interests of workers and fail to take, in some cases, even the most basic safety precautions.

After Pike River, the public have demanded change. The Inquiry was absolutely clear: there was no check and balance. When management, owners and the regulator all failed, there was no backstop. The workers were contracted, were scared, were bullied into not speaking out.

From the evidence, everyone knew the mine was unsafe – the geologists, the experts, the management, the community and the workers – but the power sat in the hands of a few who either failed in their statutory duties in the case of the regulator, or who profited from the health and safety failings (the management).

Those who may have wanted to raise issues were absolutely clear as to the consequences of this – they strongly believed, and were probably accurate in that belief that at best, no one would listen, or at worst there would be recriminations. Performance pay systems and production pressure reinforced this. Mining should have been stopped at Pike River. Day after day the workers should have been in a position to say ‘we will not do this work, it is dangerous’. They were not.

The Inquiry and the subsequent Taskforce made its strong recommendations to put in a backstop. A strong stand alone agency with a tripartite board – a challenging structure that could fearlessly insist that the regulator did its job; strong worker representation with real rights and support.

This law does not do this. While it does address the issue of mine rescues and the other points to a degree, it once again compromises the backstop. It assumes the narrative that the workers are the problem and giving their union or their representatives real say, real power to manage the agency jointly with employer representatives to demand performance, is a step too far. It disregards what happened at Pike and what is happening throughout New Zealand and assumes workers cannot be trusted with real power to make their own workplaces safe.

It is hard to understand why this continual subjugation of the right for workers to take their safety into their own hands continues. One view is that some industries in New Zealand rely on unsafe work practices as part of their economic model as was the case in Pike River and that Government knows this and tacitly supports it. Another is that Government is of the view that workers will somehow misuse powers relating to health and safety to achieve other workplace improvements (for example as a bargaining tool). There is no evidence of this and it disregards that in fact the opposite is what is actually occurring – employers are using unacceptable health and safety risk-taking to increase returns.

We are calling on the Government to rethink its position on the role of unions and workers in health and safety and to see them as part of the solution rather than reluctantly include some provisions which again will see the safety of workers compromised. It is time to be brave and take bold steps. The Government has promised the families of the Pike River miners that it will fully implement the inquiry recommendations but is stumbling at the first hurdle. It should be remembered that it was workers that lost their lives in the Pike River mine.

4 comments on “It Wasn’t the Workers or Unions Misusing their Power that Killed the Pike River Miners – CTU Submission ”

  1. karol 1

    A very clear and considered submission.

    I hope the government takes notice of this submission, but I won’t hold my breath.

    This:

    Performance pay systems and production pressure reinforced this. Mining should have been stopped at Pike River. Day after day the workers should have been in a position to say ‘we will not do this work, it is dangerous’. They were not.

    The Inquiry and the subsequent Taskforce made its strong recommendations to put in a backstop. A strong stand alone agency with a tripartite board – a challenging structure that could fearlessly insist that the regulator did its job; strong worker representation with real rights and support.

    So workers need to have more say in their own safety.

    I’m interested in the performance pay impact. Is there evidence of how such a negative impact happens?

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    It is hard to understand why this continual subjugation of the right for workers to take their safety into their own hands continues.

    People who think that they’re the masters and that everyone else is far, far below them don’t want to be reminded that those that they dismiss are people and are their equals.

  3. tracey 3

    If the union had been responsible can you imagine how rabidly this govt would have acted. In fact despite damning verdicts on management and board this govt has been v absent in its condembation

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