Job cuts spark mining levy call

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 16:11 07/06/2014

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The loss of almost 200 jobs from the Stockton mine shows the need to consider a levy on mining operations to protect local communities, says West Coast Tasman MP Damien O'Connor.

He said local communities had been talking about the need to put levies on mining operations and expected more demand for this due to yesterday's announcement from state-owned Solid Energy.

"I think the community will demand a levy off future revenues from coal to help us manage our way through these downturns when the occur. I think it's going to force a new fresh approach to mining in Buller, one that hopefully gives us a bit more security than we have seen."

He said there had been debate in the past on this idea, and he was "determined" to have that debate again.

Solid Energy told Stockton workers in Westport yesterday it proposed making 137 workers from the 521-strong workforce redundant, including 102 mining jobs and 35 management, technical, support and administration roles.

An additional 50 contractors, of the 120 working with the mine, would lose their jobs - bringing the total proposed job losses to 187.

The company estimated about 40 to 50 of the workforce had home addresses in the Nelson Tasman region.

Ching Contracting director Andrew Spittal said they had five men working there doing specialist environmental piping, three of them from Nelson. The company was in the process of digesting what the changes would mean for its contract.

"The writing has been on the wall for a while. You can't keep on producing coal when prices have sagged," he said.

Spittal, who chaired the NZ Contractors Federation Nelson-Marlborough Federation, said contractors were realistic and resilient and looked for other work.

Union representatives criticised the proposal, but there was relief from many miners as they left yesterday's meeting.

Ian James, a Nelson miner who has worked at Stockton for 4 years, said the announcement was positive despite entering the meeting "expecting the worst", he said.

"There were some very nervous people going in there," James said.

O'Connor said he would consider writing a bill to be debated in Parliament on creating a levy system for mining operations.

He would back an "appropriate proposal, which is fair to all the regions and delivers real benefits".

How much the levy would be, which operations would be expected to pay it and on what basis, needed to be discussed, he said.

He said the levy should go back to local councils to help with infrastructure development in particular.

O'Connor said yesterday's announcement was not unexpected, but still shocking and he was concerned about the effects on the region, which levies could mitigate.

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"Our rating base will shrink as people move away, so there will be less people to fund those demands."

He said house prices, schools and retail on the West Coast would all feel effects from the cuts.

"We will carry on, but it's hard to know right at this point just how badly people will be hit."

O'Connor said it was time to "think laterally" about how to support families affected and ways to keep employment in Buller, though it was inevitable people would be moving out of the region. "There will be many skilled operators and people with expertise who will be in demand elsewhere in the world or perhaps elsewhere in New Zealand.

"The unfortunate ramifications will be that many of them will have to leave town, that's where we lose the economic activities and support at schools, through kids leaving. The ramifications are wide-reaching."

Buller mayor Garry Howard said the news would let people "breathe a sigh of relief" since the community had been waiting most of the year to discover the mine's fate.

There was still a future in coal and it was positive the mine would not be shut while international prices were low, Howard said.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which represents more than 300 Stockton miners, said mismanagement of Solid Energy's finances contributed to the job losses.

Garth Elliot, union organiser for the Stockton miners, said the Government allowed Solid Energy to rack up debt and overvalue itself in the hope it could "flog it off".

- The Nelson Mail

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