Stockton Mine workers 'on tenterhooks'

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 07:55 19/02/2013

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Low morale and short weeks at Solid Energy's largest coalmine have mine workers "on tenterhooks", a union representative says.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) West Coast area organiser Gareth Elliott said morale at Stockton Mine near Westport had taken a hit after last year's restructuring and that had led to people leaving and trepidation for those who remained.

Mine workers have been working reduced shifts since mid-January and that would continue till April when the union and the state-owned coalminer would renegotiate the collective agreement for its 480 workers, he said.

The mine workers usually run 12-hour shifts for seven days with a further seven off. That has moved to 10-hour shifts which equates to 35-hour weeks. Solid Energy did not lay off any staff at the mine during last year's restructuring which cut one in four jobs and saw Spring Creek underground mine close.

The company would not say how much the wage bill was cut, but rough calculations using the company's average miner wage came to a $2.3 million saving for three months.

In Parliament last week West Coast Labour MP Damien O'Connor questioned Business Innovation and Employment Minister Steven Joyce about a rumoured receivership on the West Coast.

"If resources are the lifeblood of of the regions, what will the minister [Steven Joyce] say to the hundreds of miners who are likely to lose their jobs, with strong rumours of the impending receivership of Buller mining operations?"

Yesterday, O'Connor confirmed he was talking about Solid Energy's Stockton coalmine near Westport.

The Stockton Alliance joint venture, is a partnership between Solid Energy and Downer EDI Mining NZ.

O'Connor had spoken to workers who were unnerved by "beancounters running their rulers over every single thing" at the mine.

"There's a lot of uncertainty and a lot of scrutiny from a fiscal perspective," he said.

Solid Energy said it had "absolutely no idea" what massive job losses O'Connor was referring to.

The company was looking for savings to make the mine profitable; it was trying to find savings in all its operations.

It has shaved about $32m from Stockton's running costs through reducing hours, cancelling building and computer upgrades and management training.

Acting chief executive Garry Diack and some other Christchurch-based managers visited the mine last week for a scheduled planning meeting and the partners remained committed to the mine, a spokesman said.

"There is no greater likelihood now of job losses at Stockton than at any time since we first announced that we are taking measures to adjust to the international downturn in demand for steelmaking coal."

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Elliott, of the EPMU, had questioned Solid Energy after O'Connor's comments in Parliament, but they told him nothing had changed since the restructuring.

There were people "snooping around" the mine looking for potential savings and following the company's heavy restructuring workers were sensitive to more cuts, he said.

"It's a very big worry for them [workers] and any information that comes around - truth or rumour - they will read into that what they like.

- The Press

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