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Union Says Workplace Safety Expert Should Be On Commission

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Andrew Little
Andrew Little

NZPA - An expert on workplace health and safety should be part of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River coal mine disaster, says the leader of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU).

That doesn't seem likely after Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced details of the commission, but EPMU national secretary Andrew Little is still arguing his case.

"They should still have someone who has a professional interest in workplace health and safety -- after all, it was 29 people who died doing their job and a big part of the inquiry is whether the health and safety procedures were up to scratch," he told NZPA last night.

"We didn't call for a union representative, we called for the third slot to be somebody with that professional background."

Mr Key said yesterday the commission would be headed by Justice Graham Panckhurst, a Christchurch-based High Court Judge.

The other two members, who are still to be named, would be an overseas expert on underground coal mining and a lay person to provide a perspective from outside the industry.

Asked about worker representation on the commission, he said it would be better for unions to make a submission to it rather than be part of the decision-making process because if they were it might seem to favour one side over others.

Mr Little said his union was already putting together a team of legal and other experts to present a submission to the commission.

Mr Key announced broad terms of reference for the commission, saying it would conduct hearings, call witnesses, examine evidence and talk to international experts during an inquiry which could take up to a year and cost about $5 million.

It will try to determine the cause of the explosions in the mine, why lives were lost, the way search, rescue and recovery operations were handled, the systems in place in the mine and the legislative framework around underground mining.

"We owe it to the families of the men who perished to find out what happened and I believe a Royal Commission is the best way to do that," Mr Key said.

"Royal Commissions are reserved for matters of very significant public interest and the Pike River mine tragedy is one of those."

Mr Key said he had a "reasonable expectation" that it would report within a year, but warned it could be held up by the consequences of separate inquiries being undertaken by the Department of Labour and the police.

"It won't be able to act in any way that undermines the legal process which the Department of Labour and the police are responsible for carrying out," he said.

Mr Key also announced an urgent safety audit of New Zealand's other four underground coal mines would be carried out by an international mine safety expert under contract to the Department of Labour.

He said he did not think the mines would have to close while the audit was being carried out.


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