Solid Energy to pay miners fired in 2008

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 13:54 25/07/2012

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The wife of a man killed in the Pike River mine disaster will receive $10,000 from Solid Energy after an employment dispute her husband had with the mining giant.

Keith Valli, 62, was the oldest of the 29 men killed after a series of explosions rocked the Pike River coalmine from November 19, 2010.

An Employment Relations Authority decision released today said Valli and two other miners, Chris Pinn and Ray Waghorn, were unjustifiably dismissed from their jobs at Solid Energy's opencast coalmine near Ohai, Southland, in 2008.

The decision had been delayed because of the Pike River disaster and the February 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

''I also wish to extend my sympathies to Mr Valli's family, especially as the issuing of this determination may cause further pain,'' authority member Mike Loftus said.

Ohai staff had been told by Solid Energy in March 2007 that the company had lost two large contracts, meaning the mining operation would be downsized.

Three workers were made redundant later that year, and in 2008 the company said further redundancies were needed.

A group of workers was then assessed using Solid Energy's skills assessment tool, with Waghorn ranked third, Valli fifth and Pinn seventh.

However, the three men were made redundant, while those ranked first, second, sixth and eighth were kept on, with Solid Energy saying the four who remained were able to perform ''crucial operational tasks''.

Production manager Antony Stodart told the authority he should not have allowed his views to ''get in the road of what should have been a more consistent approach'' and should have ''taken into account all relevant experience'' the men had to offer.

Valli was able to get a job at Pike River immediately after finishing with Solid Energy, although he had to commute from Southland.

He told the authority about the shock he felt at being selected for redundancy and how he felt hurt after being badly treated by a company he had worked at for 28 years.

Loftus ordered Solid Energy to pay one month's wages to Pinn and Waghorn to reimburse their lost wages, as well as the sum the company would have contributed on that amount towards the men's superannuation.

The company was also ordered to pay $10,000 to the three men as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

Valli's money would go to his next of kin.

Last week it was confirmed that Solid Energy had bought the Pike River mine, but the company had earlier said there was only a 5 to 10 per cent chance of recovering the bodies of the 29 victims.

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- The Press

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