Stockton workers reject shift changes

By Ben Aulakh of the Westport News

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Workers at Stockton opencast mine have rejected proposed shift changes by a majority of around two-thirds, their union has revealed.

Workers on the collective agreement have been voting on changing from the current predominant seven days on, seven off shift pattern to working Monday to Friday. Solid Energy also wanted them to work nine-hour rather than 10-hour shifts.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) area organiser Garth Elliot today confirmed that only around a third of those balloted so far had supported the changes.

Mr Elliot said the exact results couldn't be released, as staff from other companies on the collective agreement at Stockton had yet to vote.

Solid Energy had been told of the outcome, and would be in touch in due course to discuss the next step.

Workers' rejection of the shift changes wouldn't mean immediate job losses at Stockton, Mr Elliot said.

"That's a little bit premature to say. We're negotiating with the company to grab the best deal we possibly can out of a very challenging situation for both sides.

"Ultimately, we have to try and find common ground, and our main objective at the moment is to keep jobs and get a decent deal, so only the future will tell."

Mr Elliot had previously said workers would each have to work an extra 51 hours a year.

"There is a lot of confusion around the deal in regards to the amount of paid hours and the amount of work hours," he said today.

"The company is trying to structure itself at this stage going forward to make the business viable ... ultimately there's all sorts of figures you could put around it."

Solid Energy told workers last month that Stockton was expected to "barely break even" this financial year.

The company said changing operating hours and shift patterns was vital to reduce the mine's production from 1.8 million to 1.6 million tonnes a year.

Solid Energy said there would be no redundancies among workers on the collective contract, because it needed extra people to reduce its leave liability, but staff roles would reduce.

The company said "any redundancy would be premature and irresponsible", as Solid Energy didn't know how many workers would stay on if rosters were revised.

Latest figures from Solid Energy show Stockton has shed 300 workers since the company ran into trouble last year.

In June last year Stockton employed 1103 Solid Energy, Stockton Alliance and contract workers.

That number now stands at 798.

Prior to Christmas, most of the Stockton job losses had resulted from workers or contractors being put off. Since Christmas, there have been no lay-offs but 65 Stockton Alliance and Solid Energy workers have quit.

Buller is also losing some Solid Energy staff attached to Christchurch head office. The company last week announced 105 jobs would go - 52 in Christchurch and 53 at regional sites. It said the job losses would be evenly split between Buller, Grey, Nelson, Waikato and Auckland.

It has not ruled out further redundancies, including in its mines.

Meanwhile, the Government and Solid Energy's bankers are reviewing the company's business plan. Solid Energy has debts of $390 million.

- The Westport News

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