The Government has agreed to work on an economic stimulus package for the West Coast in a bid to prevent almost 400 skilled workers who have lost jobs as a result of the Pike River tragedy from leaving the district.
Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee announced the package after meeting with Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn and West Coast Development Trust boss John Sturgeon this morning.
Brownlee said the Government would consider proposals over the Christmas break with a view to the first jobs being put in place by February.
About 130 workers directly employed by Pike River Coal and a further 260 workers indirectly employed by the operation lost their jobs this week as the company was placed in receivership.
The Pike River mine had been a significant economic boost to the district in recent years contributing about $13 million a year in wages to the area.
"The challenge is try and find the opportunities for those people to remain in the district until those other opportunities come on stream."
There were a number of potential opportunities that would be explored over the next two months, "we can't be very specific about those today but they are about trying to create employment opportunities as other resource opportunities come on stream."
Brownlee was unable to give details of any financial assistance the Government would provide for the package.
Kokshoorn said workers were already receiving phone calls from Australian mining companies looking to recruit them and it was feared that unless jobs were made quickly available on the West Coast much of the highly skilled work force would be lost.
There are already a number of new mining and infrastructure developments underway on the West Coast which would eventually seek the mining, engineering, geological and other skills that the Pike River work force had, but they were still some way off hiring.
In the meantime, it was hoped that a number of existing mining operations could be expanded quickly in order to employ Pike River staff until those other projects came on line, said Brownlee.By Adam Bennett Email Adam