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Union worried about Solid Energy jobs

Friday 22 Feb 2013 12:35p.m.

Union worried about Solid Energy jobs

The union representing workers at financially stricken state-owned coal miner Solid Energy is encouraged that the Government is looking at bailing out the company, but wants jobs protected.

The 1200 staff employed by the company, mainly at mines on West Coast and Waikato, face an anxious wait over the future of their jobs after it emerged the miner was in talks with its bankers and the Government as its debt hits $389 million.

It cut 440 jobs last year and sold assets, in the wake of falling global coal prices.

Despite Finance Minister Bill English saying Solid Energy will not be allowed to go under, the union is unsure what will happen to workers.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union's Ged O'Connell wants assurances from the Government about the fate of workers.

"This is a strategic asset and it is too important to our economy and to the wellbeing of mining communities to be allowed to fail," he said.

"It (the Government) needs to recognise that Solid Energy's mines are more than a cash cow, they're the economic lifeline for thousands of working families."

Workers at the Huntly East mine in Waikato will meet on Friday to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, Solid Energy chairman Mark Ford says the company will abandon plans for a lignite coal venture in Southland.

He told Radio New Zealand the plan to produce diesel, fertiliser and briquettes would be shelved as it struggles with debt and low coal prices.

He said he was confident the company would return to profit once prices improved, but signalled it would be streamlined and return to its core function.

"We do need to reposition the company," he said, refusing to rule out job losses.

Labour is accusing the Government of sitting on its hands while the company's fortunes waned, despite handing out big bonuses to staff.

Eight months ago, bonuses worth $11 million were handed over and 12 months earlier the amount was $12.5 million.

Mr O'Connell says the company's woes are a result of a culture of excess at the top and some very poor decisions by management.

NZN

 
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