May 1st is International Workers Day. Across the globe, workers and unions will be celebrating the gains they have made to ensure they have decent pay and safer work conditions.
In New Zealand, it is also the day after Newshub released leaked footage from inside the Pike River mine that was filmed three months after the explosions in November 2011 that killed 29 men.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry highlighted the cavalier approach to workplace health and safety in the mine and the Pike River tragedy paved the way for major changes to our current health and safety laws. However, no-one has ever been held accountable for the deaths of those 29 men.
For six years, the Pike River families have been calling for further exploration of the mine’s drift to seek additional evidence. Their own international experts have drawn up plans for how that could be done safely. Despite that, in a cruel twist, the government has cited the new health and safety laws to deny any chance of exploring the drift. The footage Newshub released supports the families’ claims that exploration is possible: it shows a robot that overheats in the drift but doesn’t cause an explosion.
The release of the film also raises troubling questions about what other evidence may have been suppressed.
The government has now committed to reviewing the evidence – they should do so in conjunction with the grieving families and with their experts as they continue with the plan to safely explore the mine’s drift.
This International Workers Day, the families of those workers who died at Pike River deserve, finally, some transparency about what caused the tragedy.