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Attempts by the former directors of Pike River Coal to shift responsibility for the tragedy onto their managers is "disgraceful" and highlights the need for stronger mine safety laws, the miners' union said today.
Company directors were slammed for prioritising production over the safety of its workers in a Royal Commission of Inquiry report into the West Coast mining disaster which claimed the lives of 29 men on November 19, 2010.
In a statement released through lawyers today, John Dow, Ray Meyer and Stuart Nattrass, who were directors of the company at the time of the disaster, said they "strongly disagree" with the commission findings.
"Our clients consider that the commission's view appears to be based only upon conjecture or impression, as despite the considerable amount of evidence made available to it, its report does not identify any particular circumstances, or any documents, in which a safety requirement was not met for financial reasons or because it might have impacted upon production."
The statement has sparked anger from the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) which says attempts to blame the former health and safety officer for the director's failings were misguided.
"For these three men to refuse to accept any responsibility for the 29 men who died under their watch and to then try to sheet home blame to the people below them is simply disgraceful," said EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell.
"There is no doubt Pike River Coal Ltd put production ahead of safety, and the royal commission report gives numerous concrete examples of this happening. The former director's claims are simply not supported by the evidence."
Mr O'Connell said the former directors' refusal to accept they are accountable shows the need for stronger mine safety laws.
The lack of accountability from those at the top is "unfortunate", Mr O'Connell said, and shows the need for a corporate manslaughter charge to "focus their minds" on the consequences of their actions as directors.
"The Pike River inquiry heard repeatedly how the company these men ran refused to listen to workers, excluded the union at every opportunity and created a culture where workers learned not to speak out for fear of being disciplined," he said.
Mr O'Connell says the former directors' attempts to shift the blame to those below them shows why companies can't be left to manage health and safety on their own.
"These out of touch comments are a perfect example of why we need stronger mining regulations, an independent and well-resourced mines inspectorate and worker-elected check inspectors.
"Companies like Pike River Coal Ltd simply can't be trusted to put safety first."