Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Miners head to capital to plead with Govt over jobs

Miners congregate outside the meeting at Dunollie, near Greymouth. Photo / Greymouth Star
Miners congregate outside the meeting at Dunollie, near Greymouth. Photo / Greymouth Star

Miners from Spring Creek and Huntly East will go to Parliament today to try to convince the Government to invest in Solid Energy and save hundreds of jobs.

The state-owned company yesterday announced it planned to cut about a quarter of its workforce in an attempt to keep the company viable.

Trevor Bolderson from Spring Creek on the South Island's West Coast and 12 colleagues were travelling last night to meet State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall at midday.

He said they hoped to bring some "common sense" to the Government.

Over the past three weeks, he and the union had thrashed out a workable plan to keep the mine running.

"We've been on the edge of the abyss a few times. Today just seems to have been that we've fallen off."

He said workers were distraught because they had been promised long-term employment when they began.

Brian Lynch, who has been a maintenance fitter at Huntly East mine for more than six years, said the mood at the mine was "just beaten down a bit".

"Especially these younger guys ... they were told they had jobs for 25 to 30 years, they've gone out and ... bought houses, cars, loaded themselves up with loans.

"These families if they've got kids at school, the school's affected, the supermarket's affected, everyone."

Huntly man Stu Elliott gave up his job as a boat builder in Hamilton to join the trainee scheme at Solid Energy's Huntly mine and feared eights months on he could be back looking for work.

Already some miners had stopped coming to work so they could look for other jobs, he said.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said if the Government invested in the company, it could hold off some of the worst aspects of yesterday's announcement.

The Government needed to be convinced to put some of the $170 million profits from the past five or six years back into the company.

Mr Key and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce yesterday indicated the Government was unlikely to save Spring Creek.

Mr Joyce told National Radio that Solid Energy managers had already spoken to the Spring Creek miners about their plan.

"It's going to take another $50 million to $70 million ... to get the mine to a point where it could produce again and the last time the mine was producing it was still losing money.

Mr Key said the job cuts were not a sign of economic malaise.

"The economy always loses jobs and creates jobs - the challenge is whether it's creating more jobs than it's losing and in the last couple of years we've created 50,000 extra jobs under very trying international conditions."

What could go

Solid Energy yesterday proposed slashing about 230 jobs at its Spring Creek mine near Greymouth and 63 at the Huntly East Mine in Waikato.

It also proposed cutting half its corporate, support services and development jobs.

The measures could reduce its workforce to about 1360 - down from 1800 at the start of the year.

The company currently operates five New Zealand mines: Huntly East; Spring Creek; Rotowaro, also near Huntly; Stockton north of Greymouth; and New Vale in Southland.

- Adam Bennett

- APNZ

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