More job losses at Stockton

By Keira Stephenson of the Westport News

The pull-back from underground mining has been made in favour of lower-cost, open-cast operations. Photo / APN
The pull-back from underground mining has been made in favour of lower-cost, open-cast operations. Photo / APN

More companies contracting to Solid Energy say they are laying off staff as the state coalminer begins "optimising production" at its Stockton Mine.

Today Geotech human resources manager Chris Morris confirmed his company had laid off five staff working at Stockton.

Geotech had moved another six from Stockton to Strongman Mine, for one specific job, he said. The staff would keep their jobs for the short-term at least.

The company was disappointed it had to lay off staff, but "there was no other way, there was just no work for these people at the time", said Mr Morris.

"It was terribly difficult. We're a small group and a good team."

He was unsure what would happen staff-wise in the future and didn't think Solid Energy or Stockton Alliance knew either.

Geotech usually employed about 20-24 people at Stockton, but was now just down to a skeleton staff, he said.

Boart Longyear New Zealand business manager Paul Currie said it had laid off more than 40 people on the West Coast since May as a consequence of Solid Energy's cutbacks in the region.

"We are demobilising our equipment from the field and parking it at present."

The company had hibernated its operations at Spring Creek and significantly reduced operations at Stockton.

It employed between 120-200 drilling staff New Zealand wide.

Mr Currie said layoffs would be happening all over Asia Pacific as the slowdown in the minerals and mining sector gained momentum.

The Australian mining market was also slowing down and many large mine sites were laying off staff and contractors.

Boart Longyear had started adjusting its business plans in response to the international economic downturn early in the new year and began implementing its reductions in May, he said.

He had empathy for the businesses and infrastructure on the West Coast.

"The ripple effect of the cash flow no longer being in the community goes far wider than just the workers at the mine. And that ripple effect is only just starting to be felt now. Unless there's another alternative source of income it will really slow things down on the Coast."

Solid Energy communications director Vicki Blyth couldn't give exact numbers on local job losses. However, she confirmed the 50 per cent cut in about 300 jobs in corporate, support services and development roles included Westport staff.

The company expected to confirm the proposal to staff in the near future, she said.

Solid Energy had told contractor Downer NZ it was delaying the Cypress Mine project, for which Downer had been building a haul road.

However, Downer might simply decide to redeploy its staff elsewhere rather than making them redundant, she said.

At the end of August, Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder said the workforce shouldn't expect any major announcements about job losses.

Instead the company was looking at "optimising production and minimising costs" to generate extra cash, he said.

However, since then Stockton contractor Kaipara Ltd has cut 63 jobs after its pit development contract finished early and SGS New Zealand confirmed to The Westport News yesterday that six Ngakawau jobs were on the line.

SGS provides water testing and coal sampling services.

The News also understands a number of Stockton workers have resigned because of job uncertainty.

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