Suspended Spring Creek miners hope to return to work next week, but the underground West Coast coalmine's future is still uncertain.
On Wednesday last week, the state-owned enterprise slashed jobs at the Huntly East mine in Waikato and at its Christchurch head office, and suspended Spring Creek operations while it reviewed the mine's viability.
The move prompted an outcry from Greymouth residents, with more than 1000 people marching in protest on Tuesday, which sparked a flurry of high-level meetings about the mine.
It culminated with Solid Energy announcing yesterday that mine management was working with employees and their union to make a recommendation on its 230 workers resuming underground development work.
Chief executive Don Elder said it was the result of "very constructive" meetings in Greymouth on Thursday with workforce representatives, including mine management and union representatives.
“The very clear message I got was that people were very keen to come back to work, and I agreed that I would support a recommendation to do this, provided it could be demonstrated that it can be done safely."
He expected the recommendation would be completed by early next week.
"The company would communicate directly with its staff as to when a return to work might be possible," he said.
If workers returned underground, that might be only temporary as the mine's future still hinged on the outcome of Solid Energy's review.
The workers have been on full pay since the mine's operations stopped and were told stress from the review had made it unsafe for them to keep working.
Yesterday, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce met Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn in Greymouth to discuss the mine's future.
He later visited Solid Energy's Stockton mine in Buller, the country's largest opencast coalmine.
Joyce said Solid Energy's new chairman, Mark Ford, had assured him the company was doing everything possible to hold the workforce together.
Solid Energy had originally planned to put the mine into care and maintenance, which effectively mothballed it, but the Government had told it to wait until its new chairman had reviewed the situation, he said.
Ford's appointment was announced two days after Spring Creek's operations were suspended.
Joyce said options to keep workers employed were being considered, which would be needed if the mine closed until coal prices lifted and Solid Energy's financial position improved. Ford was exploring options such as deploying workers to Christchurch for its rebuild or contracting teams to Australian mines.
He is also chairman of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team that is leading the rebuild of the city's earthquake-damaged infrastructure.
Prime Minister John Key confirmed yesterday that the Government wanted Spring Creek Mine to stay open, but it was ultimately Solid Energy's responsibility.
Speaking from Russia, where he is attending the Apec summit, he said the Government's hands were "somewhat tied" because Solid Energy was a state-owned enterprise.
"In appointing a new chairman we have made it clear what our expectations are and that is to look very closely at that issue," he said.
"Obviously our preference is that Spring Creek remains open. So if that's possible, that would be a very good thing."
The New Zealand Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union said it was pleased Elder had agreed that a team of workers and union representatives could join its review.
Its union membership endorsed the move on Thursday night.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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