187 jobs gone at Stockton coal mine

Plunging global coal prices have forced Solid Energy to further slash its workforce by almost 200 jobs at its West Coast open pit Stockton mine, the country's largest coal mine.

From a company with a multibillion-dollar value and almost 2000 staff in 2012, Solid Energy has booked losses including asset writedowns of more than $400 million over two years, and now has 730 staff around the country.

From Stockton's total workforce of 521, 102 mine staff and 35 management and administration jobs will go, plus a further 50 of the 120 jobs of contractors servicing the mine. Annual production will drop from 1.9 million tonnes to 1.4 million.

Solid Energy chief executive Dan Clifford said the job losses were in response to the depressed export market, which was expected to remain in place ''for quite some time''.

''On current pricing projections, we have to minimise our losses by reducing costs so that we can keep the mine operating,'' he said yesterday in a statement.

West Coast mining communities have been hit hard in recent years, with the Pike River disaster in 2010 and more than 300 Coast Solid Energy redundancies. An opportunity for up to 400 jobs is unrealised, with the low prices postponing developer Bathurst Resources from starting its coal mine.

Labour rounded on the Government yesterday, saying the job losses reflected National's ''disastrous management'' of Solid Energy's financial predicament, while NZ First labelled it ''neglect of the regions''.

Once promoted in the stable of state owned enterprises (SOEs) to be partially floated by the Government, high global coal prices at the time had emboldened Solid Energy to spend excessively on research and development options, prior to its near collapse in 2012, before a dual bail-out by its banks and the Government was undertaken in 2013.

China's demand for iron ore and the crucial ingredient of hard coking coal had pushed prices to record levels in recent years; up to $US350 in 2008.

China's recent declining demand has iron ore and coking coal sitting at record lows, respectively yesterday at $US95 and $US115 per tonne. Solid Energy management told Parliament's finance and expenditure committee in early March its coking coal output was sustainable - if prices were around $US140-$US150 a tonne.

Labour's SOE spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove said with yesterday's 137 job losses, ''the total number of job losses from the Government's disastrous management of Solid Energy is close to 900''.

''With much of its workforce gone, Stockton will end up operating under capacity, along with Spring Creek, which has been mothballed. National has campaigned on promoting mining in New Zealand but ironically it's shutting them down instead,'' he said.

Mr Peters said that, had a 25% royalty return been in place during 2013-14, more than $80 million would have gone towards regional development, helping create new enterprises and new jobs.

''It has been a one-way street as the regions produce our exports, in particular from dairying, forestry and mining, and the Government reaps the rewards,'' Mr Peters said.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, representing 300 Stockton workers, also pointed to what it called ''serious mismanagement'', by Solid Energy's previous board and the Government.

EPMU organiser Garth Elliott said Solid Energy had ''no ability to weather the current conditions'', because the Government had allowed it ''to rack up debt and overvalue itself in the hope they could flog it off as part of the asset sales programme''.

''They made decisions on the basis of short-sighted greed, and the miners are paying the price for it today,'' Mr Elliott said.

- simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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