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

Solid Energy to cut 90 more jobs

Coal heap at Solid Energy's  Rotowaro open cast mine at Huntly. File photo / NZPA
Coal heap at Solid Energy's Rotowaro open cast mine at Huntly. File photo / NZPA

The loss of 90 jobs from Solid Energy's Huntly East Underground mine will be "catastrophic'' for the small town, Waikato Mayor Allan Sanson says.

The company announced today 90 people would be made redundant. Mine workers will make up the majority of the redundancies, with 68 positions lost, plus 22 management and support services positions.

The total workforce at Huntly East Underground mine is currently 193.

Workers were told last month that the mine was reducing its annual production and staff numbers were being cut as part of its ongoing response to the depressed global coal market, a spokeswoman said.

Mr Sanson said the District Council was focussed on trying to find new opportunities for the workers.

"That's quite a catastrophic loss of jobs in Huntly - it's probably quite a catastrophic loss of jobs in any small community.''

For the workers with families, it was going to be "tough'', he said.

He had spoken with some of the affected workers, who were like "stunned mullets''.

Many of the workers were only skilled in mining, and the option to move to Australia to continue their work was now not an option as those mines were also struggling, Mr Sanson said.

Solid Energy had stopped all development work at the mine and was cutting production to about 100,000 tonnes per annum because the ``economics of mining underground at Huntly can no longer justify continuing the operation in its current form'', the spokeswoman said.

Last week, the company's chairman Mark Ford said Solid Energy continued to review all parts of its business in response to the downturn in the international coal market and its high levels of debt.

"We continue to believe that Solid Energy has a good operating future and our North Island operations have an important role in that.

"The company has a long history in the Huntly community and we know this news will have a big impact on local families and the local area,'' Mr Ford said. "We hope to be in a position to reinvest in the Waikato once there is a sustained improvement in the market.''

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), which represents the miners, said it was "really bad news'' for the workers who were losing their jobs, their families and the community.

EPMU acting national secretary Ged O'Connell said the miners had lost their jobs at a time when New Zealand Steel and Genesis Energy were importing coal.

"It just doesn't make any sense for coal miners to get laid off when there's a coal-burning power station on the other side of town,'' he said.

"We need a national jobs strategy using the Christchurch rebuild to promote New Zealand steel and coal and protect New Zealand jobs. The Government must do something to stop massive redundancies like this destroying our communities.''

EPMU members at Huntly East would be entitled to a redundancy package as part of their collective employment agreement, he said.

- NZ Herald

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