November 20, 2019
Nine years ago this week, on 19 November 2010, a massive explosion killed 29 men working underground at New Zealand’s Pike River coal mine. As the families grieve, they are still waiting for someone to be held accountable for the tragedy.
Pike River is a disaster close to the heart of many Australians. Not only did we lose two Australian coal miners in the blast, their bodies still entombed in the mountain, but Australian coal miners were involved in recovery efforts and subsequent investigation.
It was clear that deregulation of mine safety laws in New Zealand had laid the foundation for the disaster. A subsequent Royal Commission found that Pike River Coal had run an unsafe mine. It also found that the then NZ Government had failed to provide proper mine safety regulation, having gutted the Mines Inspectorate and abolished the role of Union Check Inspectors.
It is a reminder that we cannot afford to leave mine safety in the hands of mining companies alone. Mining companies are driven to continually maximise production. Every tonne of coal produced is money in the bank and a step towards meeting production targets.
Mineworkers rely on strong regulators and strong Unions to make sure safety standards are adequate and are enforced.
Our Union check inspectors play a unique role in the industry, with statutory rights and responsibilities to attend worksites, investigate accidents and review safety procedures and documentation.
The Union also plays an important role within the various regulatory bodies from state to state, sitting on boards and committees and making sure mineworkers have a strong voice when it comes to creating the regulatory and legislative frameworks that govern the industry.
We have all heard stories of corners being cut on safety. A national forum of District Check Inspectors in our national office this week heard hair raising stories of accidents and collisions and close calls. Sometimes, the consequences are not severe. But too often they lead to serious, career-ending injuries and loss of life.
Remembering those who have been killed in the service of our industry is an important way that we honour those workers and their families. It also inspires us to redouble our efforts to protect the safety of the living.
We are an industry with many sad anniversaries. Just last week we remembered Gretley, where four miners were killed on 14 November 1996 by an inrush of water. And I was very honoured to attend and speak at the unveiling of a new miners’ memorial in Moranbah earlier this month, to remember lives lost to mining in local mines. It is a beautiful memorial and I’m proud of the significant contribution of CFMEU Members in its development.
All of our Members can be reassured that our Union will continue to hold mining companies to account on safety and put safety front and centre of our work.
Grahame Kelly, General Secretary