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West Coast analysing job landscape

Author
Jessica McCarthy, Emily Murphy and Tyler Adams,
Section
Business,
Publish Date
Friday, 8 May 2015, 5:15a.m.
(Photo: NZ Herald)
(Photo: NZ Herald)

More job losses in the mining industry has West Coast leaders looking at how to change the job landscape.

Solid Energy announced yesterday that it was shedding 113 jobs at Stockton Mine in Westport, in an attempt to lessen losses caused by the falling coal price.

MORE: English praises Stockton Mine workers

Buller District Mayor Garry Howard points out the coast has always been synonymous with the mining industry.

He believes it's time to change that.

"Whether it be Solid Energy and the coal mining or the dairy industry and we've got the pending closure of Holcim Cement Plant, but the West Coast is still a great place to live. I remain absolutely positive."

Howard acknowledges the Buller community will be supporting the Stockton mine workers whose jobs are on the line.

Solid Energy will consult with employees before a final decision on May 26, after which they will select workers for the remaining jobs.

Howard admits it will be an anxious wait for those awaiting to hear of their futures at the mine.

"The community will be very, very supportive through this very difficult process, because they're still in an unknown area until mid-June of this year as they go through this restructure."

One group has come out swinging in the wake of the decision, saying the redundancies were a long time coming and that the government should have done more for the region.

Coal Action Network Representative Jeanette Fitzsimons is asking how many signs the government needs that it must expand job opportunities on the West Coast.

"I know that other communities have done it, and I believe the coast can do it too.

"But it's shameful that the government hasn't put any resource or even any thinking into this."

Fitzsimons points out that climate change means we can't rely on coal forever, and it's time the mining of it was phased out.

However, the lack of employment opportunities on the West Coast could force mine workers to take their chances at the beleaguered mine processor.

EPMU organiser Garth Ellis admits those with options may leave, but jobs are thin on the ground in Westport.

"There's sort-of people that would like to hang around, people that would like to stay in Westport and so forth.

"The opportunities aren't out there at the moment for a lot of employment. There are some of them that are saying, 'look, I don't think I'll apply for voluntary redundancy."

Ellis points to the fact the mine isn't completely closing down is some consolation to workers.

"It is a bright side to the workers that the mine's not closing, that certainly was a big thought going on amongst them I think, but at the end of the day we still have 113 redundancies up there."

Meanwhile, the head of Solid Energy won't promise recent redundancies will be the last at Westport's Stockton Mine.

CEO Dan Clifford admits there could be more to come if the price continues downward.

"I'm not going to give that guarantee. I've spoken to all of the Stockton team and gave them that exact message - that if the coal price continues to slide, there will be further changes."

The job losses will be determined on a role by role basis, with time for voluntary redundancies before a selection process begins.

There's been a political backlash to the event, with Labour's West Coast MP Damien O'Connor saying the government also put the squeeze on the company.

"The company was put under huge pressure because the government squeezed a dividend from it, and that caused the debt to rocket. They've been fighting on a number of fronts.

"There are still coal mines operating on the West Coast and doing so profitably."

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