Job losses at Solid Energy have been signalled by the troubled coal miners' management, who have confirmed they have investigated selling its assets.

Solid Energy executives were grilled on what was being done to save the state-owned company when they appeared before a parliamentary select committee today.

In what was a testy meeting, Labour's Clayton Cosgrove asked if further job losses were likely.

Solid Energy management had earlier said they planned to change production because of low international coal prices, which they expected to stay down for some years.


Dan Clifford, Solid Energy's chief executive, said every effort was made to communicate with workers to ensure there would be "no surprises".

"I think in the current market conditions, and movements towards reducing our activity...that reductions will be inevitable on the basis of those plans.

"The timing of that...the indication I have given, particularly to the Stockton employees, is that is not a matter of days, and nor is it a matter of double-digit months, it is in that range for us to get the work done."

Clifford said management was very aware of the pressure such comments put on employees.

"And I will say, in more recent times that pressure is extending across all Solid Energy employees."

Solid Energy is negotiating with a group of banks in a bid to reduce its $320 million debt.

Yesterday Finance Minister Bill English said he was unclear whether the Christchurch-based company is viable. He ruled out any further taxpayer cash to help the struggling coal miner, following financial support in 2012.

Solid Energy acting chair Andy Coupe said the company was acting with urgency, and reduced its operational and head office costs by around 30 per cent in the last 18 months.

"As the balance sheet is structured now, it is increasingly unlikely that Solid Energy will be able to agree refinancing of its current banking arrangements in September 2016."

"But those gains have been negated by the continuing decline of the international coking coal price."

Coupe said the coal miner recognised there would be no further Government money. It was marginally cash positive, he said, but after non-cash costs and interest there would be another significant loss this financial year.

"As the balance sheet is structured now, it is increasingly unlikely that Solid Energy will be able to agree refinancing of its current banking arrangements in September 2016."

Solid Energy's management have scoped the sale of assets, Coupe said.

"The most palatable [to sell] would be the North Island domestic business, then the South Island domestic, and then the export business would be the most difficult."

Clifford said the Stockton mine on the West Coast was loss making, despite substantial improvements to productivity.


"We have done, in response to the industry expert opinion we have had on international pricing, we are doing and finalising a response to that for Stockton now, it hasn't been completed nor announced, so I would prefer at this stage that the first people that hear about that are our employees."

A restructuring of Solid Energy was announced in 2013, after collapsing coking coal prices on world markets exposed the company's over-commitment to a range of development initiatives, including development of options to turn lignite coal into diesel and urea, and renewable energy products such as pellets for wood burners.

Last July Solid Energy laid-off 184 employees and contractors at Stockton.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) has called for the Government to help if necessary to protect remaining jobs.

After the meeting Mr Coupe would not comment further to media on the prospect of job losses.