Solid Energy threatens job cuts

22:05, Nov 22 2009

Solid Energy says the current miners' strike has cost it $10 million and it may cut jobs if staff do not return to work.

The state-owned enterprise's chief operating officer, Barry Bragg, said the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) had been "irresponsible" in drawing South Island workers into a dispute at the Rotowaro opencast mine in the Waikato.

About 180 workers there were locked out on October 27. Since then 820 workers at Solid Energy sites including Stockton opencast mine, near Westport, and Spring Creek underground mine, near Greymouth, have walked off the job in support.

Workers at Stockton say they have their own issues concerning conditions, rosters and pay, but Bragg said Solid Energy was close to resolving these before the North Island strike began.

"We want to be clear that we don't see this as a South Island dispute. We got to a point with the Stockton workers that was pretty close to their terms and conditions and we think that the purpose of the strikes is to support the dispute in the North Island," he said.

The action had cost $10m in lost revenue in the last week with the Stockton strike responsible for about $6m of that, he said.

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A shipment of coal for an Indian customer was waiting at Lyttelton – 10,000 tonnes – about a fifth short of being complete. There were question marks over shipments to India and Japan scheduled for this month.

"If we start to lose customer orders we will have no choice but to cut jobs," said Bragg.

He said picketers were undoing efforts to guarantee a long-term future for Spring Creek, which is in a development phase, and Stockton.

Solid Energy was willing to take part in talks between the Rotowaro miners and contractor HWE Mining.

"The union has so far failed to agree to remove industrial action and we won't bargain while it is in place. We will not negotiate in these circumstances," he said.

Bragg said workers at the South Island mines had already accepted the seven-day roster which was part of the dispute at Rotowaro.

Bragg accepted that establishing the Stockton Alliance, a partnership between Solid Energy and Downer EDI which began operating the mine in October, had not always "run smoothly" but it had done its best to deal with the issues.

Bragg's comments came as more than 300 Stockton workers marched through Westport yesterday to protest conditions at the mine. John Krammer, an EPMU delegate for Stockton, said the strike there was as much about individual issues as supporting North Island workers.

EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said Bragg's comments and the threat of job cuts were a "strategic" move to try to get the workers to break the strike.

If he thought the union had been "misleading" them to go on strike he misunderstood the miners' mindset of "injury to one is injury to all", he said.

The Press