Achieving decent workplace health and safety regulation with full input from working people and their representatives must be front and centre for business and government, the EPMU says on International Workers' Memorial Day.
EPMU members and officials as well as members of the Greymouth community will observe Workers' Memorial Day in the historic township of Blackball at 1.45 pm today by unveiling a monument marking the day and the death of 29 mineworkers at Pike River last year.
"We know enough about the Pike River disaster to know that health and safety regulation and oversight by the authorities is a real issue that the Royal Commission will have to explore in detail," says EPMU national secretary Andrew Little.
"These issues include the state of health and safety procedures and policies on site, whether there was genuine involvement of the workforce in health and safety issues, the induction of employees and contractor staff, the level of independent inspection by government authorities and whether enforcement action should have been taken earlier in the life of the mine."
"The Royal Commission will tell us what did and didn't happen at Pike River, but the reality is that its report could be years away and yet we know there are improvements that could be made now in the mining sector and other hazardous industries that could make a difference."
"It would not be premature for business and government to act now."
"The best way for the government to improve health and safety in the mining sector would be to reinstate the ‘check inspectors' that were scrapped in 1992," he says.
"We owe it to the 29 men who died in the Pike River mine and the rest of the 7,270 people that work in the mining sector to improve safety."
"Elected check inspectors were experienced miners with special safety responsibilities and checking functions in mines, but were scrapped in 1992 despite warnings at the time that doing so would risk the sort of disaster that happened at Pike River mine in 2010."
"The EPMU has campaigned on behalf of miners for the reinstatement of check inspectors since 1992, repeating its call for them in the aftermath of workplace deaths in the Black Reef and Roa mines on the West Coast in 2006. Subsequent changes to the Health and Safety in Employment Act have failed to fill the gap in the system left since then."
"The 2008 review of mine safety ordered by then Minister of Labour Trevor Mallard was on track to carefully examine the case for reintroducing check inspectors, but after a change of government in 2008 the new Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, failed to address the gap in the system and chose not to reintroduce check inspectors."
The EPMU is the union that represents mine workers and is one of the organisers of the Workers' Memorial Day event at Blackball on the West Coast today where a memorial will be unveiled honouring the lives of the 29 mine workers killed at Pike River.
The 45 minute commemorative service will be held at the Blackball Working Class Museum starting at 1.45pm. If it is wet, it will be held in the Blackball Working Men's Club. Speakers will include Andrew Little, representatives from other unions, local dignitaries and community members.
Workers' Memorial Day was adopted by the Canadian Parliament in 1985 and recognised by the United Nations' International Labor Organisation in 2002 as an international day of remembrance for workers killed in incidents at work, or by diseases caused by work. The worldwide theme for this year's observance is health and safety regulation.