Saturday, November 10, 2012

The EPMU cops a kicking...

We hadn't encountered Steven Cowan's blog Against the Current before. That's hardly surprising, as he is a staunch leftie, as evidenced by the content of his blog-roll.

So we were rather surprised to read his stinging criticism of the role of the EPMU in the Pike River mine disaster; under the heading How "modern unionism" failed the Pike River miners he opines:

When the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River mining disaster issued its report  this week, the response of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) was immediate. It issued a press statement welcoming  the   report and is encouraging the Government to implement the recommended   changes as soon as possible.

The statement quoted EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell who declared that report should mark a turning point for mine safety in New Zealand.

This report is a damning indictment of New Zealand’s deregulated health and safety regime. Pike River Coal Ltd should never have been allowed to operate in the way it did, and in other countries it wouldn’t have been allowed to.
 
The report makes clear that the tragic loss of life at Pike River could have been prevented with stronger regulations, an independent and well-resourced mine safety inspectorate and genuine worker involvement in health and safety.

We hope the failings exposed in this report spell the end of the deregulated health and safety regime of the last 20 years. This vindicates the union’s repeated calls for improvements in mine safety and for the reintroduction of check inspectors.
This statement represents a complete change of heart by the EPMU officialdom for it was never critical of  Pike River Coal (PRC) during the time that  the mine was open.   The EPMU represented approximately half of the 140 miners on the site.  

This is extraordinary stuff, suggesting that the EPMU has 20/20 hindsight but somewhat less foresight. And Cowan does not exempt for former general secretary of the EPMU from his criticism; read on:


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.

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’.

Little and O'Connor's views would of found  favour with the Minister for Energy and Resources , Gerry Brownlee. He insisted that PRC had ‘an absolute focus on health and safety’.

So here  we had the Government , the Labour Party and the EPMU all lining up to defend the management of PRC.

Regular readers will probably be aware that prior to embarking on self-employment, we were a card-carrying member of the EPMU for a couple of years. Our representative from the EPMU was stereotypical; large, loud and bitterly critical of bosses when speaking to the members. He was however far more lamb-like when it came to negotiating with said bosses, and in our time as a union member, there were few gains for the members.

It's easy to be wise after the event, and after the Royal Commission has issued a scathing report. But where was the EPMU's concern for its members in the lead-up to the Pike River disater, and in its immediate aftermath. Where was the EPMU's thunderous outrage then?

There are undoubtably lessons to be learned from the tragedy at Pike River in November 2010. But the EPMU's outrage now ought not exempt it from criticism for its earlier inaction or apathy. We'll leave the last word to Steven Cowan:


The views of Andrew Little and the EPMU flew in the face of expert opinion.

While Andrew Little  was defending PRC   an  Australian gas drainage engineer, who wished to remain anonymous because he feared 'recriminations', said he visited Pike River in 2009  and observed that its  operating standards were 'extremely poor'.

He said  that he had been told by miners  that the mine was flooded with methane gas about three weeks before the first explosion. 

He said  miners had bored through 'high flow methane holes' without any risk assessment conducted or procedure on how to manage gas flow from the hole in place. He was critical  that PRC has not yet implemented a gas drainage drilling regime that could relieve the pressure when there was  a  build up of gas by drilling a hole in the coal seam.

The New Zealand Herald, also in November 2010,   quoted Gerry Morris of Greymouth, a former writer for Coal magazine, who said he had 'heard regularly' from contractors at the mine 'over the last two or three years that this mine is unsafe, there’s far too much gas, there’s going to be a disaster here one day'.

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.

32 comments:

bsprout said...

I wonder if the inaction from the EPMU is through lack of knowledge. They cover a broad spectrum of employment sectors and coal mining would be smaller subset of their membership. In this case they probably rely on the miners themselves to flag concerns and I understand that few of the Pike River Miners had experienced good mining practice and obviously thought what they had to deal with was "normal". There is also a reluctance for many workers to complain about conditions or safety because it could cost them their job.

Edward the Confessor said...

Yep, it's obvious to everyone that truing the private sector to self-regulate is a terrible mistake. Everyone that is except the Nats and Act for whom trust in the corporation is a matter of blind faith and ideology of course. Now that's been shown to be utterly and murderously destructive, what will Stephen Joyce do? He wants to double down, but the PM is shitting himself. I'm guessing they'll blame the public service for allowing itself to be defunded. That's the moral thing to do in such circumstances.

Keeping Stock said...

And what does all that have to do with the EPMU's apathy Edward? Please elucidate...

Bunk said...

It has nothing to do with it. Edward the confuser strikes again.

Edward the Confessor said...

For goodness sake. I suspect you're being dim, rather than deliberately obtuse, although in Bunk's case that is remarkably generous of me. Everyone made a mistake in trusting the private sector to self-regulate, including the unions. However, the Nats trust private companies as an article of faith and ideology, so will not recognise this the way normal people have. Witness Joyce's statements about the need for rapacious capitalists to have their way. You get this right? Or do I have to type even more slowly for you? It's about the inability of the right to learn from its mistakes.

Keeping Stock said...

I see Edward. So what you are saying is that the EPMU's criticism this week is because it has learned from its mistakes. If that is the case, why has Andrew Little not joined Kate Wilkinson who immediately fell upon her sword?

Ms Wilkinson has shown integrity. On the other hand, Andrew Little has only demonstrated political opportunism at a time when the bodies of union members still lie within the sealed-off Pike River mine.

Edward the Confessor said...

Wilkinson was in charge of both the operation of the regulatory regime and the policy that set it up. It all happened on her watch. A resignation from the Labour portfolio (noting that she's keeping all the others and the salary and perks) is the very least she can do. Little had no such responsibilities or role to resign from.

In any event the Nats don't see they've done much wrong here, as a blind faith in big business is their fundamental operating principle. Witness Stephen Joyce. That's why they're trying to find individual scape-goats in the public service. Classy.

Keeping Stock said...

Go back and read my comment on the Chris Trotter post Edward. Labour opened the Pike River mine; the first coal was taken from it in October 2008. Chris Carter approved it.

Sure, Gerry Brownlee presided at the official opening in November 2008 (after the 2008 election), but the mine was already operational (and probably unsafely so) on Labour's watch.

You can keep repeating a lie Edward, but the number of times you repeat it does not stop it from being a lie.

Edward the Confessor said...

Gerry opened the mine. Wilkinson was in charge of mine safety during the mine's operation and at the time of the explosion. The Nats are responsible for fixing the health and safety system they've overseen so poorly. Think they'll do a good job? Not if they and they're proxies go around looking for other people to blame. When will you stop doing that do you think?

Keeping Stock said...

I don't normally repeat myself Edward, but since you are intent on defending Labour when there is abundant evidence that Pike River opened on Helen Clark's watch, here goes:

Approvals history

The mine has a development and consenting history going back to the 1970s, with the first geologists and surveyors having explored the area in the 1940s. The mine is located approximately halfway between Greymouth and Reefton, close to the Pike Stream, a tributary of the Big River in a region that already has a long history of coal- and gold-mining activity. It is located on Crown land administered by the Department of Conservation, and adjacent to the Paparoa National Park.[3][4] Because of the status of the land, Pike River Coal Ltd had to obtain the Minister of Conservation's agreement to an access arrangement for mining under Section 61(2) of the Crown Minerals Act 2001.[7]

On 12 March 2004, Minister of Conservation Chris Carter approved the access arrangement for Pike River Coal Ltd. The arrangement included four 1.5-metre (4.9 ft)-wide emergency escape shafts within the boundaries of Paparoa National Park and a requirement for Pike River Coal Ltd to spend NZ$70,000 annually on conservation projects. Carter stated that the "safeguards and compensation" outweighed the inconsistencies with objectives of the Conservation Act 1987 and the relevant management plans.[8]

Due to the location, the conditions of the access arrangement included special considerations for the environment, such as minimising tree felling and a requirement to reinstate all above-ground areas after the cessation of mining.[3][4] Opponents of the mine strongly criticised the approval of the access agreement, noting that the coal is not intended for domestic use but simply a commercial operation, and thus should not have been allowed to go forward in a sensitive location. Forest & Bird also criticised the fact that the Minister of Conservation chose to ignore the report from the Department of Conservation stating that the mine would be damaging to the local environment.[2][9] Greenpeace Aotearoa New Zealand also criticised the project for furthering the use of fossil fuels instead of developing sustainable alternatives.[2]
Mine operation

In October 2008, coal production started and in November 2008, Gerry Brownlee, the Minister of Energy and Resources and Minister for Economic Development, formally opened the mine.[10] However, production was slow initially, and took until 2009/2010 to reach significant levels.[5]


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pike_River_Mine

Keep repeating the lie though if you must Edward. It's your credibility that is going down the gurgler. And your silence on Steven Cowan's flaying of the EPMU is deafening.

Edward the Confessor said...

WHy are you obsessing over when the mine started operating? Gerry opened it, for the vast majority of its operation Wilkinson was the Minister in charge of the regulatory framework. I've said that everyone recognises mistakes were made in the way mining was regulated. However, the Nats trust big business as an article of faith and so will not learn from this the way everyone else (unions included) have. Simple. Why you can't get that is suspicious.

Keeping Stock said...

Ah; the back-down begins. It was you who raised the issue of Brownlee opening the mine Edward, on the Trotter post. Brownlee may have cut the ribbon or whatever you do at a mine, but the mine was already up and running before National won the 2008 election. Chris Carter approved the mine, and it started operating under Labour's watch. That is an inescapable fact.

And for one who seems to want Ministers to resign for pretty much everything they do, it's odd that you haven't had the decency to acknowledge Wilkinson doing the right thing. You're a strange bloke Edward; so full of contradictions.

Keeping Stock said...

And what say you in response to this from Steven Cowan Edward?

The New Zealand Herald, also in November 2010, quoted Gerry Morris of Greymouth, a former writer for Coal magazine, who said he had 'heard regularly' from contractors at the mine 'over the last two or three years that this mine is unsafe, there’s far too much gas, there’s going to be a disaster here one day'.

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 EPMU seems to be all hui and no do-ey.

Bunk said...

Eddie calling me dim and obtuse, name calling in a debate is the refuge of those who have no leg to stand on

Edward the Confessor said...

It's not name calling, Bunk. It's pointing out that you're dim, because your comments betray your dimness. You're still doing it.

As for Wilkinson doing the right thing, the only thing she's done is lighten her own workload. Still gets has the same fat salary and ministerial limo. And she doesn't know what she's done wrong. Yep, that's integrity.

And how many times do I have to say, that yes, everyone made mistakes here. The Nats will be the only ones to not learn any lessons. This is because it's an article of blind faith for them that big business doesn't do wrong, and neither, by extension, do they. That's why they and their proxies are searching for scapegoats (ie the union, the previous government, individual public servants, the department)

Keeping Stock said...

To be fair Edward, your beloved Labour Party has been pretty slow to learn from its mistakes. Whipped in 2008, 27% in 2011 and back down into the 20's in recent weeks. And still the smears and innuendo continue.

So don't lecture the Right about its failure to learn, there's a good chap.

Edward the Confessor said...

Talking about people's lives here chum, not petty politics. They're only workers though right?

Keeping Stock said...

Edward the Confessor said...

Yep, it's obvious to everyone that truing the private sector to self-regulate is a terrible mistake. Everyone that is except the Nats and Act for whom trust in the corporation is a matter of blind faith and ideology of course. Now that's been shown to be utterly and murderously destructive, what will Stephen Joyce do? He wants to double down, but the PM is shitting himself. I'm guessing they'll blame the public service for allowing itself to be defunded. That's the moral thing to do in such circumstances.

November 10, 2012 1:47 PM


Now; who's "Talking about people's lives here chum, not petty politics" now Edward old bean. You were the one who started throwing the ad-homs around. In the meantime, the EPMU has found its voice to condemn everyone except the EPMU, whilst members' bodies still lie deep in the Pike River mine.

This post was about a Leftie's comments on the EPMU's culpability Edward. You were the one who turned it into an attack on National.

Edward the Confessor said...

What ad homs? You're the one who started carping on about poll results, completely off topic.

You were trying (as usual) to score cheap political points and divert attention away from the government's culpability in the tragedy, not me. I just pointed that out, along with the fact that the government wouldn't learn the lessons everyone else has because of its blind faith in the inherent goodness of big business. That's pretty obvious from Stephen Joyce's public statements and things like this post.

Bunk said...

Eddie, you're the one with the cognitive challenges here and I do pity you that you get some kind of kick out of creating innuendo and nonsense - but that's all you and your party has. I guess we won't hear from you next week bc you will be going to hear Shearers first and last conference speech. Perhaps you might take that time to reflect on what a lost cause your party is and come back here with something of substance to say? Call me dim if you like, pretty ballsy stuff Eddie you must feel special, but KS has very adequately pointed out the inconsistencies in your 'thinking'. Keep trying Eddie, one day you might say something with merit attached.

Edward the Confessor said...

That's right, go for the Ad hom, Bunk. It's all you have. You've proved yourself unable to respond to the points I've made, and IV2 has been left flailing about. Why do you think that is? You're a smart boy after all...

Keeping Stock said...

You're so conceited Edward. The only one 'flailing around' here is your own good self as you try to absolve your beloved party and your EPMU mates from justified criticism. Any credibility you may have had is melting away; you're just another shill old chum.

Edward the Confessor said...

You calling anyone a shill is so utterly ridiculous I'm surprised you have the gall to do it. Your entire existence appears given over to smearing, obfuscating,, distracting and misleading on behalf of the National Party. And you apparently do it for free. Remarkable.

Keeping Stock said...

Your entire existence appears given over to smearing, obfuscating,, distracting and misleading on behalf of the National Party. And you apparently do it for free. Remarkable.

What is truly remarkable Edward is the way you rise to the bait, day after day.

Edward the Confessor said...

ROFL, as do you.

I'm just naturally helpful, and it pains me to see you make silly errors of fact and logic, and engage in ethically compromised commentary all the time. Defending the conduct of incompetents, crooks and liars, even if you do it by furiously and ridiculously attacking other people as a distraction, can't be good for your long-term mental health.

Keeping Stock said...

Ah; the old mental health line now eh Edward? I always thought that the Left were the good guys, who didn't resort to that kind of innuendo and nastiness, but since I've been blogging, I've discovered differently.

Be warned Edward; you are treading a VERY fine line.

Edward the Confessor said...

Gosh, how hypersensitive of you. It takes a rather fantastic interpretation of my comment for you to take from it what you did.

"I always thought that the Left were the good guys..."

No you didn't.

Bunk said...

No Eddie, I have responded its just that you dont like the truth behind what I have had to say. And as for the 'ad homs', mate, thats your calling card.

Keeping Stock said...

Spare me the fake astonishment Edward; you knew EXACTLY what you were saying.

Edward the Confessor said...

Yes I did, but your interpretation of it was utterly warped and reveals an uncanny ability to think the very worst of people. Oddly you take the completely opposite view when it comes to government ministers. See my point?

G Taylor said...

RE: ANDREW LITTLE MP - At Pike River, Miners union (EPMU and forerunner) failed in representing workers industrial health and safety interests - with pay and benefits the most basic of workers welfare interests - (which of course includes monitoring performance by Dept. Labour of mining safety responsibilities). Basically this is the fault of trade union membership who have permitted a takeover of their union (and trade unions generally) by people from the urban educated liberal elite who see themselves more as part of the "labour movement" than as trade union activists. This description appears to fit Andrew Little, miners union/EPMU Little General Secretary for 11 years until recently - 2011 election Labour candidate for New Plymouth (and perhaps also predecessor Rex Jones) during which 11 years the rot set into mining safety - following the destruction of regulation by previous National Governments (left unremedied). Both Jones and Little found time to be President of the NZ Labour Party at the same time as being EPMU General Secretary. Mr Little apparently wasn't likely to robustly challenge the industrial safety policy failures of Labour Government Ministers of Labour and dereliction of public duty by Dept.of Labour chiefs.

G Taylor said...

RE: ANDREW LITTLE MP - At Pike River, Miners union (EPMU and forerunner) failed in representing workers industrial health and safety interests - with pay and benefits the most basic of workers welfare interests - (which of course includes monitoring performance by Dept. Labour of mining safety responsibilities). Basically this is the fault of trade union membership who have permitted a takeover of their union (and trade unions generally) by people from the urban educated liberal elite who see themselves more as part of the "labour movement" than as trade union activists. This description appears to fit Andrew Little, miners union/EPMU Little General Secretary for 11 years until recently - 2011 election Labour candidate for New Plymouth (and perhaps also predecessor Rex Jones) during which 11 years the rot set into mining safety - following the destruction of regulation by previous National Governments (left unremedied). Both Jones and Little found time to be President of the NZ Labour Party at the same time as being EPMU General Secretary. Mr Little apparently wasn't likely to robustly challenge the industrial safety policy failures of Labour Government Ministers of Labour and dereliction of public duty by Dept.of Labour chiefs.