Thousands march in Spring Creek protest

FRUITLESS: Coasters pleaded with Solid Energy and the Government to save the Spring Creek mine last month.
FRUITLESS: Coasters pleaded with Solid Energy and the Government to save the Spring Creek mine last month.

Greymouth has had its biggest protest in more than a decade to plead with Solid Energy and the Government to save the Spring Creek mine.

More than 1000 people crowded the streets of the West Coast town today chanting ''Save our mine, save our town'' and waving banners highlighting fears of the mine's threatened closure.

Last Wednesday, the state-owned enterprise suspended operations at the underground coalmine just north of Greymouth while it reviewed its viability.

On the same day, it announced a swath of redundancies at its Huntly East underground mine in Waikato and in its Christchurch head office.

The sudden move shocked Spring Creek's 200 employees, 50 to 60 contractors and Greymouth, prompting the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union to organise today's March for Work protest.

Emotive speeches were held afterwards at the town clock in the centre of the town.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn called for the community to keep lobbying Solid Energy, the Coast's three MPs and the Government.

''We have got a window of opportunity for a couple of weeks.''

He said Solid Energy's board had overreacted to an international downturn in coal prices and he called for the Government to step in to fund the $70 million shortfall until the coal market improved.

''This is not the miners' fault,'' he said. ''Coalmining on the Coast has a bright future.''

West Coast-Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor said Solid Energy's new chairman, Mark Ford, planned to meet the board today and called for him to make swift changes to ensure Spring Creek's future was safe.

''Here is your opportunity to show some true leadership,'' he said.

Solid Energy's board and senior management ''had let their eye off the ball'' in letting the mine face an uncertain future, he said.

O'Connor read from an internal Solid Energy document that highlighted the state-owned enterprise's push to prepare it for potential listing in the next one to three years under proposed state asset sales.

''This is about cutting costs to make it look more rosy for potential investors,'' he said.

The spokesman for most Pike River families, Bernie Monk, told the crowd to lobby the Coast's MPs to tell the Government to save Spring Creek.

''If they can't do it, let us go up there and do it for them,'' he said.

West Coast-based National MP Chris Auchinvole vowed to advocate to Prime Minister John Key and the Government to save the mine, congratulating the organisers for protesting before a decision was made.

The mine's site convener, Trevor Bolderson, spoke of the anguish workers faced in waiting to find out if the mine would close.

''It's like waiting to be bloody hung.''

Only three weeks earlier, he said, a new intake of workers had started at the mine.

Some had left great jobs in anticipation of a promised bright future at Spring Creek, only to be left in the lurch, he said.

Bolderson said Spring Creek's problems did not warrant its closure and its workers wanted to return to the coalface.

''We are not seeking divine intervention; we're seeking Government intervention,'' he said.

The Press