Axe strikes executives first

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 07:41 26/09/2012

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Solid Energy's new chairman Mark Ford is reviewing executive salaries at the company which is proposing to axe 440 jobs.

Ford said the board was making sure executive pay packets were in line with industry benchmarks.

The state-owned coal miner has nine in its executive lineup but four positions are to be made redundant.

On Monday, the company announced bigger job cuts at its head office in Christchurch than signalled a month ago.

One in two jobs would be terminated, including four executive positions.

The executive positions for the chop are general counsel held by Bill Dwyer, group manager organisational development held by Garry Diack, group manager renewable energy held by Andy Matheson and the post of chief operating officer held by Barry Bragg who has already resigned.

The remaining executives will be chief executive Don Elder, chief financial officer Anthony Burg, group general manager external affairs Bill Luff, and group manager new developments Brett Gamble.

A new executive is Larry Hull who recently joined the leadership group as group manager coal operations.

He was previously president of Gilbert Mine in West Virginia, United States.

The 2011 annual report shows the eight highest-paid staff, including Elder on $1.4 million, cost $5m.

Ironically, Solid Energy has been recruiting flat out for expansion of its operations.

Spokeswoman Vicki Blyth said the company had taken on 374 people in the year to June ahead of expected growth across all its operations. Some of those positions were likely to go under the proposed restructuring.

The company had to fight hard to attract people with hard-to-find-skills and stop a spike in staff turnover because of Australian headhunting, she said. Staff turnover hit 17 per cent in 2011 after several years of a steady 11 per cent.

"We were losing people in droves last year. In some instances, we were competing against the Australian market but . . . you can't pay Australian wages in the New Zealand economy."

But the increase in staff is a theme of the last decade and, in the past five years, staff numbers have swelled by 1000 to 1800 staff at the beginning of this year.

The restructuring and redundancies announced this week are likely to cost between $15m and $20m.

But the $190m wages and salaries bill will fall about $42m a year.

Blythe said the average miner at Spring Creek earned just under $82,000, compared with an average Huntly East miner getting $77,000. Most Huntly staff were trainees and were paid lower accordingly, Blyth said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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