Miners plan protest march

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 11:57 01/09/2012

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Spring Creek mine workers plan a protest march in their desperate fight against the threatened closure of the state-owned West Coast coalmine.

Solid Energy suspended work at the mine near Greymouth on Wednesday until further notice, pending the results of a review of its future viability.

It said it stopped operations because job instability created considerable stress for the mine's 250-plus employees and contractors, which was unacceptable "from a safety perspective".

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union's West Coast area organiser Garth Elliott said yesterday Spring Creek workers feared the mine would close permanently .

The "march to work" would be held at noon next Tuesdayin Greymouth's main street, with speeches held afterwards at the clocktower in a bid to highlight the closure's potential damage to the local and national economy.

"It is to push the train of thought to Solid Energy and the Government that they need to look very closely at the damage they might do to the town and the people. This isn't just going to affect the miners. We want everyone to join us, including members of the public to come to support it."

He said employees and contractors were angry Solid Energy refused to allow them to keep working while the review was under way.

After Wednesday's announcement, it was agreed a group of local management and workers would do a risk assessment to determine whether workers would be able to work safely despite their jobs being in limbo, with the possibility they could return to work on Monday.

The assessment found the workers would be fine to resume work underground, but union delegates were told yesterday morning that Solid Energy had scotched that option before the risk assessment had been completed.

A spokeswoman for Solid Energy said there was an "initial view" by local mine managers that operations might be able to resume on Monday if a risk assessment proved the men were able to work safely.

However, she said that option was discussed by corporate managers in Christchurch, who decided by Thursday it was unacceptable for men to work underground in the current situation.

She said it was "very unfortunate" there had been a miscommunication and that union delegates were informed of that decision only yesterday.

The only work to continue at the mine until the review was completed was critical safety work and coal loading, which involved about 20 people, she said.

Other employees were on full pay in the meantime.

Solid Energy was considering four options, from closing the mine to continuing its development.

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The mine has been in a development phase since last December.

- The Press

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