Coal miners on strike

The first national coal miners strike in more than a decade kicked off this morning with 700 miners walking off the job for 48 hours at four Solid Energy mines.

Miners are striking at four of Solid Energy's five sites at Huntly, Stockton in Westport, Ohai in Southland, and Spring Creek near Greymouth.

Only the Terrace Mine at Reefton is unaffacted as staff are still under agreement.

More than 50 miners were picketing outside the entrance to the Spring Creek mine this morning.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) representative Harold Gibbens said Solid Energy wasn't paying enough to keep its best resource -- the workers.

The company was offering a 2.8 per cent increase but miners wanted at least 6 per cent, in line with some of its North Island counterparts.

Mr Gibbens said they didn't expect pay parity overnight, but wanted Solid Energy to at least have a system in place to make it happen.

"We're not going to achieve this parity in one hit.

"But they're not wanting to talk about the issue of pay parity which to us is the biggest beef with them and has been for 10 years."

The miners had seen a lot of money wasted around the Spring Creek site and spent on other things and they believed the company should be investing in its workforce, he said.

After meeting the last busload of miners off the site at 7am, the picketers headed to Greymouth for a march at midday.

Mr Gibbens said a busload would be sent down to Ohai to offer support down there.

In Buller, striking Solid Energy mine workers are this morning picketing the Stockton opencast mine, 37km north east of Westport and the Ngakawau coal handling complex at the foot of the Stockton plateau.

Solid Energy chief operating officer Barry Bragg said today it had no talks scheduled with the miners.

"We had talks scheduled for next Thursday but the miners, at this stage, are not committing to that."

Lost production from West Coast mines was costing Solid Energy 8000 tonnes of export coal a day, which equated to $1 million of earnings, Mr Bragg said.

In the Waikato, 240 miners from the Huntly East and nearby Rotowaro mines joined the strike.

Workers at the Huntly mines had been offered a 2.8 per cent pay rise but that was still well short of the 6 per cent claimed, EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said.

"An offer of 2.8 per cent when inflation is expected to hit 3 per cent and other workers are winning 5 per cent is just not in the game."

- NZPA

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