Union comments about Pike River “churlish”: NZ PM

The New Zealand Prime Minister has slammed comments by a union boss that Pike River management worked too closely with the government and were not subjected to proper scrutiny.

President of New Zealand’s Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly told the Labour Party Congress yesterday that although Pike River had "failed in its fundamental duty to provide a safe workplace", it’s actions were not properly investigated.

She also noted that Prime Minister John Key sat next to Pike River Chief Executive Peter Whittall at the memorial service in Greymouth.
Key has hit back, saying it is dangerous to make such claims when the Royal Commission of Inquiry is still underway.

He labelled her comments “churlish” and insensitive.

"For Helen Kelly to make those comments until we know what actually happened in that mine is inappropriate in my view.

“It’s getting in the way of the royal commission,” Key told The New Zealand Herald.

He said the memorial was a time for everyone to grieve, not point the finger.

"That day may well come, depending on the results of the royal commission, but it wasn’t appropriate at the time when we held a memorial service."

Key said the deaths of the 29 men in the Pike River tragedy in November was treated with the utmost seriousness by the government and it is determined to get to the bottom of the cause of the disaster.

Pike River Chairman John Dow and receiver John Fisk have both declined to respond to the comments, with Dow saying they are ‘political’ and Fisk determining that an academic should answer.

Fisk did say that Kelly’s view that shareholders should be held accountable in the case of accidents ran contrary to the fundamental tenets of company law, according to the Herald.

Kelly said workers and employers had been given unequal standing in the political and public arena.

"Until the worker that causes a fuss to demand safety becomes a hero – rather than an ungrateful beneficiary – people will continue to die."

She claims Pike River was portrayed as a hero that provided jobs to the West Coast and then as a victim that was "protected by all the powers of the state from scrutiny in the first few weeks" and its shareholders would now walk away "scot-free" without having to account for the deaths and debt.

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