6 Nov 2012

PM says companies won't sacrifice lives for money

7:13 pm on 6 November 2012

The Prime Minister has told Parliament it is ridiculous to suggest that some New Zealand companies are putting profits above the safety of employees.

John Key continued to defend the Government over harsh criticism in the Royal Commission report on the Pike River Coal mine tragedy in which 29 workers died after a series of explosions at the West Coast mine in November 2010.

The National-led Government during the 1990s changed the law to give companies more responsibility for workplace health and safety.

The commission's report released on Monday found that led the former Department of Labour to take a hands-off approach towards monitoring and enforcement.

The department came in for particularly heavy criticism for failing to properly supervise operations at the mine. The commission said it did not have the focus or capacity to ensure that Pike River was meeting its health and safety responsibilities and it should have stopped the mine from operating.

On Tuesday, Mr Key was asked in Parliament by the Green Party whether companies have been allowed to put profit over employee safety in the current regulatory environment.

Mr Key dismissed that as ridiculous, saying companies would not sacrifice lives for money.

Using Pike River as an example, Mr Key said an explosion which closes down the whole operation is not good for business.

Key has 'full confidence' in minister

The Prime Minister says he still has full confidence in Kate Wilkinson as a Cabinet minister following her resignation from the Labour portfolio.

Ms Wilkinson resigned on Monday following the release of the Royal Commission's report on the Pike River tragedy, saying 29 men died under her watch and it was a personal decision to step down.

John Key said on Tuesday that relinquishing the Labour portfolio was the honourable thing to do in light of the department's failings.

Mr Key said there is no evidence to suggest that the Pike disaster happened as a result of the actions, or inaction, of Ms Wilkinson and the possibility of her quitting the Cabinet altogether was not raised.

Kate Wilkinson will retain the Food Safety, Associate Immigration and Conservation portfolios.

Labour Party leader David Shearer stopped short of calling for her to be sacked from the Cabinet, but says her work in other portfolios should be closely scrutinised.

"The Prime Minister should take a good look at what she is doing in her other portfolios and, given the fact that in this case, she advised us in particular when we wrote to her there was no problem with health and safety in mines, they should be looking very, very closely at what she's doing in her other portfolios."

However, Green MP Kevin Hague believes the minister may need to resign from the Cabinet altogether.

"I need to go back and review the decisions she made. So for example, in 2009 there was a review of mining regulations that effectively the minister put the kibosh on - and that may well have made a difference in this case."