MP slams Solid Energy

[imageSolid Energy should have seen the coal price crisis coming and prepared for it, says West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor.

International coal prices had always fluctuated but Solid Energy had naively charged ahead thinking record prices would continue, he said.

It had subsequently over-reacted to the coal price drop by mothballing Spring Creek Mine, and changing rosters and contracts.

Just down the road from Spring Creek, privately owned Roa Mine continued to operate in the same coal markets without any job losses, he said.

"Unfortunately, Solid Energy have sat on their chuffs in Christchurch, too far removed from the coal mining, from the reality of what's going on."

He acknowledged the Christchurch head office had shed some staff, but said many senior managers remained while mineworkers had lost their jobs and their homes and had to move elsewhere for work.

Solid Energy had undergone so much upheaval, it begged the question what was the company's strategy, he said.

Solid Energy has shed about 480 staff so far. It is warning more jobs will go at Stockton opencast mine unless workers agree to change from 12-hour to 10-hour shifts to cut production 20 per cent.

Mr O'Connor said he realised Stockton profits had been required for other Solid Energy projects, but the company could not "just rape and pillage a cash cow".

He believed coal prices would rise again and said one of the challenges was to ensure coal communities benefited more from Solid Energy's mines. He applauded the Buller District Council's royalties for regions project.

- By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

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