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'Our laws need to be strengthened, it’s appalling' – Pike River widow calls for law change 10 years on from tragedy

The widow of one of the 29 miners who lost their lives in the Pike River tragedy has called for New Zealand’s workplace laws “to be strengthened” on the 10th anniversary of the disaster.

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Anna Osborne, Sonya Rockhouse and Rowdy Durbridge spoke to reporters following a commemorative service in Wellington today. Source: 1 NEWS

A methane explosion occurred at the West Coast mine at 3.44pm on November 19, 2010, with 31 miners and contractors inside at the time.

Two men were able to walk out of the mine with moderate injuries, but the remaining 29 have never been recovered.

The Pike River Mine tragedy commemorative service was held at Parliament today, which saw Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and politicians from across the House come together with the families of the men who lost their lives.

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1 NEWS reporter Lisa Davies, who covered the breaking news a decade ago, spend the day with families on the West Coast. Source: 1 NEWS

"My husband's 64. We have a three-year-old grandchild, and he never got to see his beautiful granddaughter," Anna Osborne, who lost her husband Milton in the blast, said in an emotional press conference inside the Beehive this afternoon. "It's things like that really hurt, that my husband has missed. My daughter, with her partner, having this beautiful grandbaby.

"Why wasn't he here? It didn't have to be this way. Our laws need to be strengthened, it’s appalling." 

She said people are continuing to lose their lives "needlessly, and that is going to be a continuous thing, unfortunately".

"Unless we try and change laws and make it safer for everyone, we’re going to keep losing these loved ones and that’s just so unnecessary.”

Pike River recovery advocate Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her son in the tragedy, said the families "don’t want our men to die in vain and nothing come out of it".

"We don’t want any other families to go through what we’ve been through. We’ve had to fight damn hard in the last 10 years, you know. We were put in this position - through no fault of our own, as were our men - and so because we’ve been through all that, we know what happens. We want to make sure that other families never have to go through that again.”

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Sonya Rockhouse, Rowdy Durbridge and Anna Osborne honoured those killed, during a commemorative service at Parliament. Source: 1 NEWS

She said employers “need to be put on notice that if they don’t have a safe workplace, if things happen at work, if people get killed or badly injured at work, then there are going to be consequences”.

“People should not die at work in this day and age.”

Rockhouse said while there will never be zero deaths, “we can make it a damn sight safer than what it is”.

“Everybody in New Zealand has the right to go to work every day and feel like they’re safe in their workplace, and then come home at the end of the day,” she said.

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It’s been a time of reflection today for the families of the 29 men who died 10 years ago in New Zealand’s worst mining disaster. Source: 1 NEWS

“Our boys went to work, place wasn’t safe and they didn’t come home at the end of the day. We don't want any other family to suffer like we have.”

Rockhouse said she has seen minor improvements in workplace safety since she began calling for change in 2018, but said it’s “nowhere near what it should be”.

“Things haven’t changed … The workplace deaths are still growing - there’s more and more and it’s unacceptable.

“I think that there were some things that were changed that made it look like things were changing, but really, they really haven’t changed. But we aim to change that.”