Solid Energy's Stockton opencast mine machinery operators have rejected a proposed shift change, despite management warning the mine's future is in jeopardy.

Half of the operators voted in a secret ballot on the shift proposal last Thursday and the rest voted last night.

The result was 194 to 52 against moving from 12-hour to 10-hour shifts, said Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) area organiser, Garth Elliott.

The operators were concerned about the resulting 17 per cent cut in their pay, which equated to between $9000 and $13,000 a year, he said.


"Obviously they didn't want to lose all that income. The other side of it was, they weren't very happy about the voluntary roster the company also wanted in that variation."

Solid Energy had proposed a voluntary roster of three days on, three nights on, and three days off, as an option for workers who did not want a pay cut. They could have earned more money than on the current 12-hour shifts, but would have worked longer hours.

Mr Elliott said they feared the result would be fewer jobs long-term, Mr Elliott said.

"They felt it was a threat to them and they didn't even want it on the board."

Before the vote, management had warned them that if they rejected 10-hour shifts "we might not be here in another month or two months' time".

Mr Elliott said workers regarded the warning as a threat rather than reality.

They could not understand why Stockton, which had long been profitable, was facing a shortfall this financial year.

They wanted to know what Solid Energy operations Stockton's profits had propped up and why Solid Energy had not made provision, when times were good, to weather the current coal price crisis.

"Where has all that money gone, why have they spent it all? Why isn't the Government stepping in to help this situation out? After all they are a stakeholder, they're the shareholder."

Workers believed there were other alternatives for Stockton to save money, rather than shift changes. He declined to reveal what the alternatives might be.

He said management told the operators 45 workers had left Stockton over the last month and were not currently being replaced. The resignations increase Stockton's job losses to around 150, mostly among mine contractors.

Mr Elliott said Solid Energy could not impose shift changes without workers' approval. "They've got to sit down and talk to us again or there's a disputes procedure in the agreement which normally entails going to mediation to talk about the issue."

The Westport News put the workers' concerns to Solid Energy, but it declined to comment. Communications manager Bryn Somerville would say only that the company was disappointed with the vote against 10-hour shifts, the need for saving remained, and Solid Energy was considering its next steps.

"Whatever is decided, however, we will be speaking first to our teams at Stockton and their representatives."

In a recent newsletter to workers, Stockton Alliance manager Michael Harrison said the mine had already cut $32 million from its budget, but needed to save more by making shift changes or its viability was in doubt.

"I am convinced that these changes - including the need to reduce the shifts to 10 hours - are essential. If it is rejected, the future viability of the mine will be in question in the current market."

In response, the workers asked why managers weren't also facing pay cuts.