Officials advised against check inspectors: Minister

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson relied on advice from departmental officials and from overseas when she decided against law changes to bring back elected worker "check inspectors" in New Zealand mines, says a spokesman.

After two underground mining deaths in 2006, the Department of Labour held public consultations on ways to improve health and safety management systems in a review of the legislative and regulatory framework for underground mines.

In 2008, it raised a number of areas for possible increased regulation, including check inspectors who would be elected by workers to check on the safety of a mines where workers raised concern.

Workers and unions said check inspectors would be the "single most effective solution for improving health and safety in underground mines".

But that idea was opposed by mining companies - including Pike River Coal - who said it could create problems in mines if the worker check inspectors took a different view to management on a safety issue.

Last November, the department's workplace health and safety policy manager, Jim Murphy, told a miners' union on "(Ms Wilkinson) does not agree to a regulatory change to introduce 'check' inspectors, nor for an approved code of practice for employee participation specifically in the mining sector".

He told Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) safety coordinator Fritz Drissner in Wellington that the "feedback" on employee participation did not provide a clear basis for decisions.

"Submitters had strongly divergent views, depending on whether they were coming from an employee or an employer perspective," he said.

"The former group strongly supported legislation to implement employee 'check' inspectors, and the latter group strongly opposed this measure."

Ms Wilkinson considered that the Health and Safety in Employment legislation which replaced the former mine safety rules in 1992 already provided a good basis for effective employee participation, the letter said.

On Tuesday - after the Pike River disaster - Ms Wilkinson told reporters that check inspectors had been considered and were "discounted on the advice of the department".

Her spokesman said today that the minister disagreed with the EPMU on the basis of advice both from the department and from overseas.

Pike River Coal said in its submission on the 2008 Labour Department paper that check inspectors were "totally inappropriate and not required".

"We believe that under such a regime there is a very high likelihood of abuse of such a position which will eventually ensure that health and safety will fail in that workplace."

Interpersonal conflict and potential personal grievance claims could result, Pike River said in a submission written by Mr Whittall.




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