Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse still fighting for justice; photo: Joanne Carroll/Fairfax NZ

Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse still fighting for justice; photo: Joanne Carroll/Fairfax NZ

by Susanne Kemp

On Saturday morning, members and supporters of the families of a number of the Pike River workers who lost their lives in the November 2010 explosions at the mine began a picket outside the mine.  Led by Sonja Rockhouse, who lost a son, and Anna Osborne, who lost a husband, the group have been protesting the decision of the mine company, state-owned Solid Energy, to permanently seal off the mine, leaving the remains of the 29 dead workers in the mine forever.

The company’s decision has been made despite the fact that there is new evidence that the mine shaft is now safe to re-enter.  And, of course, despite prime minister John Key’s promise to the families, in the aftermath of the explosions, that the remains would be retrieved and returned to their grieving families.

Faced with protests, environment minister Nick Smith said on Sunday the mine entrance would not be sealed off before November 19, the 6th anniversary of the explosions.  However, this is a very brief reprieve indeed.

The families have been continuously betrayed:

  • By the union and union leader that said the mine was safe; the union leader is now head of the Labour Party
  • By the Labour Party which colluded in the running down of the whole system of mine safety inspection and on whose watch the mine was given the go-ahead
  • By the National Party which colluded in the run-down of mine safety inspection and by National leader John Key who gave the families assurances that have not been kept

In September 2013, the government said it was giving approval to the mine being re-entered.  Mine re-entry had actually been one of the conditions of the sale of Pike River mine to the state-owned Solid Energy.  Work on re-entry was initially to start by the end of 2013 and be completed by around mid-2014.  The government said it would set aside over $7 million for the effort.

Anna Osborne was able to declare, “It’s actually quite exciting now to know that it’s actually been given the tick to go ahead.”  However, it wasn’t long before the government began backing off.

While work began in October, just under three years short of the disaster, it was soon brought to an end, as was the state’s case against former Pike River coal boss Peter Whittall.  Subsequently, $3.41 million was paid out – just $110,000 each – to the families of the dead miners by the insurers of the Pike River company.

Pike River was not an accident.  It was a disaster that was in the making from the start.  And those responsible have gotten away with it so far.

More broadly, as Don Franks put it in one of our articles, “Today, under capitalism, the rights of private property trump workers’ health, safety and lives.

“For as long as capitalism is socially acceptable, untimely death will be the workers’ shadow.”

Below are articles about the Pike River explosions that killed 29 miners and the subsequent manoeuvrings by the company, the government and the EPMU leaders around the issue. They’re in chronological order, starting with the first article and ending with the most recent:

Pike River Blues:
Pike River lessons:
Pike River – ‘cashflow’ versus workers’ safety:
Pike River company’s safety breaches killed 29 workers – it’s official:
What’s the latest at Pike River?
Pike River third anniversary:
Pike River injustice – taking up Helen Kelly’s offer:
Pike River – the final cover-up?

We need to support Pike River families more than ever: