MENZ Issues

Men’s Work

The sentencing today of a geologist and manager of the Black Reef Mining Company highlights the disregard NZ shows to men’s contribution. Robert McGowan died when the mine he was working in was engulfed by floodwaters from an adjoining mine abandoned since 1932. The Department of Labour prosecuted the geologist and manager, and police are reported to be considering whether to pursue criminal charges.

It may well be appropriate to prosecute those involved in managing the mine. It may make little difference that one of the two prosecuted, manager Garry Haddow, was with Mr McGowan in the mine and was barely able to survive until the flood abated before attempting unsuccessfully to save his colleague. However, the fact that his own safety relied on his decisions and actions suggested that he made errors rather than committing deliberate criminal acts.

The union representing coal miners has criticized previous weakening of regulations around mining. The Black Reef Mine was still within a 12-month period of grace that the Dept of Labour allows new mines before having to provide a mining plan for scrutiny. The same department considered that this particular mine warranted only one inspection visit every six months. The union has called for reinstatement of mine check inspectors to be on site at all times of mining. But clearly it was easier for our government to prosecute a few individuals for mistakes than to consider what price might be justified to improve men’s safety in dangerous jobs.

What has been missing from all news reports is a basic recognition that mining is a dangerous service provided mainly by men, as is the case for most roles involving high levels of danger. Year after year almost 100% of workplace deaths are suffered by men, and it’s not because men tend to be more clumsy than women. Even in jobs now featuring women, e.g. police, the men will tend to place themselves in the way of danger to protect their female colleagues. No journalist saw fit to acknowledge the many men whose bravery enables them to do what is required to maintain the infrastructure our societies depend upon for modern lifestyles. Instead of honouring men for their contribution, we as a society take them for granted until they make a mistake whereupon we focus only on blaming and punishing a few of them. We maintain a position of denial about the inherent dangerousness of many jobs men do, pretending that such jobs would become magically safe if only everyone followed fine-print regulations written more for the purpose of scapegoating than as realistic, practical approaches to reduce risk.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs studiously avoids recognising any special merit in men’s roles, instead making its primary focus to get rid of the alleged disparity between the average incomes of men vs women. Somehow, social justice is to be found in equating incomes regardless of career risks, body wear and tear, discomfort, dirt, personal costs and sacrifices, priority given to one’s career, or any other factors that may well distinguish between what men and women do to earn a living.

As if to emphasize the perceived irrelevance of men’s contribution, NZ National Radio this morning aired a story about today’s scheduled sentencing of those blamed for the Black Reef Mining accident, without any reference to the dead man’s bravery and sacrifice in undertaking dangerous work to provide for his family. Their story instead focused on the struggle Mr McGowan’s widow endured to exact retribution for her husband’s death. (See also this article and this article) At today’s sentencing her reported comments related mostly to her wish to gain financial compensation for the loss of her money provider. And good on her; of course our hearts will go out for the losses suffered by her and the children. However, in failing to respect, even to mention the dead man’s sacrifice in undertaking dangerous work to provide for his family, Mr McGowan’s widow, our newspapers and National Radio have all insulted the memory of this martyr and all men who undertake dangerous jobs, including those now being punished.