Miners march on Parliament

JO MOIR
Last updated 14:19 25/09/2012
Fairfax NZ

Dozens of Spring Creek and Huntly miners marched on Parliament today demanding a second chance from State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall.

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Solid Energy miners marched on Parliament today demanding a second chance from State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall.

Yesterday Solid Energy announced more than 400 job losses at its Spring Creek mine on the West Coast, the head office in Christchurch and at the Huntly East mine.

Dozens of Spring Creek and Huntly miners carrying union flags and wearing t-shirts with the slogan, Save Our Mine Save Our Town, were led by Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn to Parliament steps shortly before midday. A group of five, including Kokshoorn and EPMU union representatives, headed to Ryall's office for an emergency meeting.

Kokshoorn said protesters want to save New Zealand mining and stop the flow of miners heading for greener pastures in Australia.

"Even though the coal price is down, just care and maintenance (costs) can still get coal out of a mine,'' he said.

"Albeit they will be reduced staffing numbers, but we can still do it."

The effects of yesterday's cuts are huge for miners and their communities but coal was also of a national interest, Kokshoorn said.

"Solid Energy gave false security to those miners they told not to go to Australia.

"They said stay here because we can make good profits out of Spring Creek,'' he said.

"Here we are just a few months after that where most miners will be redundant and that's not on.''

Kokshoorn and Spring Creek Mine union representative Trevor Bolderson left the sombre and shocked community for Wellington late yesterday.

"If someone said to us two years ago that Pike River coal mine and Spring Creek would both be gone in two years we would have said they're crazy, but here it is happening to us,'' Kokshoorn said.

After more than 30 years in the industry Bolderson said there were no alternative careers for him and many of his colleagues.

"Mr Ryall doesn't know the full picture and that's what we're here to tell him,'' he said.

Spring Creek miner Wayne Abelson was part of the protest today and said a top-heavy office and excessive spending were to blame at the mine.

"There are 80 in an office to 170 underground in the mine and that's just out of control,'' he said.

Kokshoorn said Ryall was the minister in charge and was therefore responsible for Solid Energy.

"Government needs to inject some capital into the company,’’ Kokshoorn said

"That's how you reap some rewards in the future,'' he said.

"As coasters we understand the coal price has collapsed, but in 2008 coal collapsed and bounced back straight away.

"We don't want a knee-jerk reaction that will lose our miners to Australia.''

Prime Minister John Key said changes were necessary because of unrealistic price expectations.

Key said the Government took a "deeper dive" into the state-owned company because of plans to partially sell it and three state-owned power generation companies.

It found Solid Energy has unrealistic coal prices built into its forecasts.

"When people say the mixed ownership model isn't very good, this is actually a reflection of exactly what we're talking about, that Governments often aren't the best owners of companies."

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Solid Energy also had a "reasonable pool" of debt which was not normal for coal mining companies, Key told TV3's Firstline.

"Now that the coal price is collapsing essentially Spring Creek is not viable."

Low coal prices also reduced the likelihood of selling Solid Energy, he said.

The Government had been negotiating back and forth with the company for about 18 months and had waited for a new chairman to come on board to see whether solutions, other than job losses, could be found.

Despite yesterday's announcement Solid Energy miners arrived at Parliament this afternoon in an attempt to save their jobs.

They want the Government to give the one-off $36 million payment needed to keep Spring Creek mine open.

- Stuff

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