It was the news they dreaded but expected.
About 225 Spring Creek Mine workers were officially made redundant today, casting a pall over the West Coast.
Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder told the underground coalmine's work force at a meeting in nearby Dunollie at noon today that the mine would go into care and maintenance, as predicted two months ago.
All staff were given four weeks' notice of their jobs ending but they could reapply for 16 new positions at the mine once it was mothballed.
The payout would cost the company about $10 million, he said.
A further 130 contractors' jobs were under threat because they relied on the mine for work.
As workers filed out from the Dunollie hall, some looked distraught, others relieved the anxious wait was over, but some were elated by the size of their redundancy packages.
Stephen Shaw, 53, said the news was grim but he had been surprised at the size of the payout.
''It's a bit better than I thought. It means I could take an $18-an-hour jobs and be OK. It's the young ones I feel bad for.''
He had worked underground at the mine for more than six years but was heading to Australia soon to start a 10-week trial at a mine, where he would earn more than at Spring Creek.
It was preferable to leave than to apply for one of the 16 jobs remaining, Shaw said. ''I don't want to fight 200 people for the same jobs.''
Aaron Iraia, a 38-year-old leading hand in the development work, said his redundancy was large enough to allow him some time off to reflect on what he would do next.
''This is Don's guilt money.''
He and his colleagues had known the mine would close.
''I'm glad it's over. It's a relief we can move on now,'' he said.
Les Neilson, a supervisor for building works with 30-plus years with Solid Energy and its predecessors, said he had planned to retire regardless but felt sorry for the young workers, such as one colleague with a young family and a $200,000 mortgage.
''There's a lot of sad boys, that's for sure,'' he said.
Another miner, who had worked underground at the coalface for six years and declined to be named, was disappointed he would have to shift from the West Coast for work.
It was a particularly hard wrench because he would have to leave behind a 5-year-old son who lived with his former partner.
He planned to move to Australia for mining work rather than the Christchurch rebuild.
''We can't take a $50,000 pay cut for that sort of work.''
He said the workers were angry with Solid Energy and blamed the mine's failure on mismanagement.
''The place was too top-heavy,'' he said.
Underground miner Trevor Bolderson, the mine's Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union site convener, said he had fought hard for his colleagues and was disappointed submissions to save the mine had failed to change Solid Energy's mind.
He was yet to look at employment opportunities for himself but it was possible he would return home to Britain.
Bolderson, an underground miner with about 35 years' experience, moved to New Zealand on the promise of unlimited work at Spring Creek.
''I don't regret coming to New Zealand. What I regret is signing my name to anything that had Solid Energy on it,'' he said.
EPMU West Coast area organiser Garth Elliott said the workers had expected to be made redundant today but it was still devastating news.
Solid Energy had let down the workers, their families and the West Coast, he said.
He criticised the Government for failing to save the mine. ''They should have been working harder to save these jobs.''
Two months ago, the state-owned enterprise suspended operations while it reviewed its viability and announced plans a month later to put the mine into care and maintenance because of low international coal prices.
After the meeting, Elder said he had closely reviewed all submissions by miners and its union on ways to keep the mine operating.
However, none could close the gap between operating costs and low coal prices.
''It's a tough day for the company and for the Coast.''
He was in ''active discussions'' with future investors for the mine.
If Solid Energy got a new partner, new mining methods and the international coal price increased, the mine could reopen within nine to 12 months, although realistically that could be two years away, Elder said.
Regardless, he said, Spring Creek would need to be a smaller work force if it reopened to ensure its viability.
Mine board has 'cut their losses'
West Coast Green Party MP Kevin Hague said he believed the closure of the Spring Creek mine was driven by the Government's "desire to maximise the share price of Solid Energy".
"Rather than managing the price fluctuations of coal and continuing to trade, the board of Spring Creek have cut their losses in order to get Solid Energy ready for a future sale," Hague said today.
The job losses would create a "devastating knock-on effect" and likely lead to far more job losses on the Coast than those directly lost through Spring Creek's closure, he said.
"The Government's asset sales agenda is driven by the desire to create short-term profit at the cost of long-term sustainable job creation and sensible management of our energy sector," he said.
"New Zealand needs to keep our assets in public ownership so we can sensibly manage the demands of the energy sector and take into consideration the impact of changes on jobs, communities, consumers and the environment."
About 150 people attended a meeting held by representatives of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (Scirt) in Greymouth on September 28 to outline the opportunities they had available.
Scirt has received about 100 applications of interest to date.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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