MAC: Mines and Communities

New Zealand: Bankrupt Pike River Coal ordered to pay victim compensation

Published by MAC on 2013-07-09
Source: Australian Mining (2013-07-05)

The inability of Pike River Coal seems to argue for significant bonds from mining companies. Although where they are in place they tend to cover environmental issues, but not all mining disasters are environmental.

And how does one fix a just price for compensation in such a case as this?

What's the life of the two young men mentioned worth?

Simply in terms of what they might have earned in a working life which could have lasted another 40-50 years, a quarter of a million NZ dollars? More?

As to the sacrifice of their lives, in terms of loss to families, loved ones, and "society"; surely no price can be set too high?

In this instance, the "award" of $NZ100,000 in compensation to the victims'
families and two survivors seems to be derisory (let alone what the company says it can pay).

Assuming we urge that companies, potentially responsible for such disasters, should be forced to post a pre-mining bond to cover more than just token costs of the social, econcomic and psychological impacts of such "accidents", in pracitce who is to make that judgment call, and following which paramaters?

With utterly depressing regularity, we find that mining companies have neglected basic safety procedures, resulting in the deaths of workers, which should have been  predictable. Shockingly, it's not just the fly-by-night outfits which are responsible for this. Among Chinese coal operatives, death tolls have been almost as high among registered
companies, as among "illegal" ones. During the past two months, we've seen 38 workers go to their doom at a mine, managed by the world's biggest copper mining corporation. The worst death toll in 25 (now 27) years in the USA was down to the negligience of (and corruption embedded in) one of the country's longest-established coal companies...

In all these instances, and many others (including that at Pike River), it may be true that the management was responsible directly for the coporate homicides, and should therefore shoulder a large part of the costs of "redemption" done, due to their negligence.

However, the authorities repsonsible for monitoring their performance, and those which licenced their operations in the first place, cannot be allowed to escape blame - and put money (however inadequate or inappropriate it may be, in measuring up to the damages done) - when such disasers occur.

Of course, this would result in the state paying out, in addition to that provided by the mining firm, And if the latter goes bankrupt, the burden on the taxpayer becomes even more exiguous.

Pike River Coal ordered to pay victim compensation

Alex Heber

Australian Mining

5 July 2013

Sydney - An emotional Judge Jane Farish has today awarded compensation to the victims of the Pike River mine explosion in New Zealand.

The mine owner Pike River Coal (PRC) has been ordered to pay $760,000 in fines and more than $3 million in reparations for breaches of health and safety regulations.

The families of the 29 men that were killed in the disaster along with two survivors were each awarded $110,000 in compensation.

But the company is now in receivership and according to 3news.co.nz it has just $156,000 available in a post-explosion insurance fund for fines and reparations.

Farish said she is confident the reparation would be paid despite concerns of the company's financial status.

But the company has indicated it only has enough money to pay $NZ5000 to each family, The Australian reported.

"The hazards were well known, they were predictable and they were preventable," Farish said.

"At the time of the explosion there were many indicators that the mine was an unsafe and in a potentially explosive position, yet the warning signs were not noticed and not heeded."

Found guilty in April, the company did not contest the nine charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, which encompassed failure to properly measure methane levels, failure to ensure proper ventilation, failure to check panel geology, and failure to mitigate explosion risk.

PRC was also charged for failing to ensure the safety of the youngest victim, 16-year-old Joseph Dunbar.

Family members yesterday addressed the court speaking of the ongoing grief and financial repercussions they have endured since the November 19, 2010 gas explosion.

Impact statements read aloud in court told of depression, attempted suicides, divorce, and the trauma knowing the victim's remains are still inside the mine.

Beth Mackie spoke of loss of her son Samuel and the ongoing grief she experiences.

"An act of violence has been brought against my son and I am very angry and bitter," she said.

"That a company could play Russian roulette with his life is like something from a horror movie."

Joanne Ufer's 25 year-old son Joshua was one of the men who died in the gas explosion.

Ufer has previously told Australian Mining that the results feel like a "shallow victory" especially because its receivership status means the fines probably won't be paid.

"It is a bit of a shallow victory really to now have the knowledge that two of the three that were charged by the Department of Labour (being Valley Longwall and Pike River) have been found guilty of those safety breaches," she said.

"Valley Longwall's fine was insignificant considering that three of their employees died at Pike River including my son Joshua.

"Pike River Company is basically a non-entity as they are in receivership and I cannot imagine that any fine they receive will be able to be paid."

But Ufer said if anything can come from this tragedy it's that worker's safety should always be a company's top priority.

"If a valuable lesson can be learnt from this, it is that companies need to look after their workers, their most valuable asset," she said.

"Nothing can bring them back once they are gone."

Former chief executive of the mine Peter Whittall is also facing 12 health and safety chargesover alleged failures relating to the explosion.

 

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