Independent, dependent, and employee: Contractors and New Zealand’s Pike River Coal Mine disaster

J. Ryan Lamare, Felicity Lamm, Nadine McDonnell, Helen White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we use the case study of the Pike River Coal Mine explosions, which occurred outside Greymouth, New Zealand, in November 2010 and killed 29 workers, to examine the vulnerability of contracted workers, particularly with regards to occupational health and safety, at times of disasters. We first consider how the literature defines ‘employees’ and ‘contracted workers’, and the notion that many contractors are in fact dependent, vulnerable individuals. We next explain that this group of workers has been overlooked within the disaster and occupational health and safety literatures. We use the Pike River mine explosion as a case study for exploring the health and safety consequences facing vulnerable contractors at a heavily subcontracted employer willing to disregard necessary protections for these workers. Our findings indicate that contractors were especially vulnerable when the Pike River mine exploded, relative to other employee types. In addition, we find that financial outlays to these workers’ families following the explosion have been slow or nonexistent, largely due to a lack of legal guarantees granted to these individuals. This study highlights the need to consider the nuanced levels of subcontracting and multiple types of employees whose health and safety are affected when disaster occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-93
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Industrial Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 28 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Contingent work
  • employee health
  • employment protection
  • health and safety work
  • occupational health and safety
  • working conditions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Industrial relations


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