Mine workers say 'no' again

Stockton mine machinery operators have again rejected Solid Energy's attempt to cut costs by changing their shifts, but the company's warning of big pre-Christmas job losses has evaporated.

The operators voted 150 to 72 in a secret ballot yesterday against changing from 12-hour to 10-hour shifts.

Last month they voted 194 to 52 against the proposal.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union area organiser Garth Elliot said the mood of yesterday's meeting was not hostile, but some workers were angry and frustrated.

After managers left the meeting, workers made it clear they were sick of being threatened with redundancy.

"I think the guys have got their backs up, to be quite honest. They've had enough of the threats and the bullying tactics they feel the company has put on them."

Solid Energy communications director Vicki Blyth said the vote result was disappointing.

"But we move on from here. We do remain committed to working with the staff from Stockton to achieve the best outcomes for the site."

Solid Energy warned three weeks ago that Stockton could suffer "significant" job losses before Christmas unless machinery operators agreed to 10-hour shifts.

"I can tell you for certain that what we cannot do is nothing and we can't wait much longer before making a decision," communications manager Bryn Somerville told The News on November 30. "We can't wait until after Christmas. We have to find these savings if Stockton is going to stop losing money."

The company had toned down its stance today.

Ms Blyth said there would be no significant job losses at Stockton before Christmas.

"They rejected 10-hour shifts and we need to move on from here. We need to work with the staff to get good outcomes in the context of Solid Energy's current financial situation."

Asked whether Mr Somerville's comments were simply a threat, she reiterated her previous comments.

Mr Somerville also told The News that if operators rejected 10-hour shifts, Solid Energy would consider rotating shift work, meaning operators weren't always working the same shift pattern.

Asked if that would happen, Ms Blyth said Solid Energy would be looking at "options for a whole range of things" at Stockton after Christmas.

Solid Energy transition manager Garry Diack addressed yesterday's meeting in place of the scheduled speaker, general manager, opencast, Stephen Esposito.

Ms Blyth said the company felt Mr Diack was better placed to give workers a company-wide context for Solid Energy's business.

Stockton mine suspended operations yesterday afternoon so mineworkers could attend the 4pm meeting at Westport's Solid Energy Centre.

Workers and the company have been at loggerheads since last month when Stockton Alliance manager Michael Harrison told workers the mine was cutting $32m from its budget but needed to save more by making shift changes or its viability was in doubt.

Mr Harrison said Solid Energy's export opencast operations, including Stockton, were close to marginal at current prices and with the New Zealand dollar so high.

In response, the EPMU said it believed management warnings of big job losses were a threat rather than a reality, and asked how much management planned to cut from its own pay packets.

Figures obtained from Solid Energy last week under the Official Information Act indicate the mine workforce has fallen by about 237, to 866, since June.

- By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

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