Grey day at mine as 225 jobs slashed

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 26/10/2012

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"There are a lot of sad boys, that's for sure," says Les Neilson, a 30-year mining veteran.

He spoke as workers filed out of the Dunollie Hall. Some looked distraught; others, relieved the wait was over.

Yesterday, Solid Energy confirmed that about 225 Spring Creek mine workers would be officially made redundant, casting a pall over the West Coast.

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 firm about $10 million, chief executive Don Elder said.

A further 130 contractors' jobs were under threat because they relied on the mine for work.

For many, the size of a redundancy package brought some relief.

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 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."

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.

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 efforts to save the mine had failed.

He had yet to look at employment opportunities but he could return to Britain.

An underground miner with about 35 years experience, he 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."

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The union's West Coast organiser, Garth Elliott, said the workers had expected to be made redundant yesterday but it was still devastating news.

Solid Energy had let down the workers, their families and the West Coast, he said.

He also criticised the Government.

"They should have been working harder to save these jobs."

Neilson, a supervisor for building works with 30-plus years with Solid Energy and its predecessors, said he had planned to retire but felt sorry for the young workers, such as one with a young family and a $200,000 mortgage.

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.

At yesterday's meeting, Elder told the underground coalmine's work force that the mine would go into care and maintenance, as predicted.

After the meeting, Elder said he had reviewed all submissions by miners and their union on ways to keep the mine operating.

But 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 said.

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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