Stockton job losses confirmed

Stockton mineworkers got the bad news they were expecting today, that more than 180 jobs will go - over a quarter of the workforce - and mine production will fall by 25 per cent.

Solid Energy confirmed the restructuring proposal it outlined to staff three weeks ago, in response to continuing low international prices.

However, the job losses will reduce by two, to 185.

The Westport News understands both the retained positions are in the technical area.

The losses will comprise 135 Stockton Alliance workers and about 50 contractors' employees.

The alliance currently employs 521 and mine contractors employ about 120.

Solid Energy chief executive Dan Clifford said there had been constructive feedback during the consultation period, resulting in some changes to the final structure, including retaining two jobs.

Coal production at the mine would reduce from 1.9 million tonnes (Mt) a year to 1.4Mt in the year to end-June 2015, he said.

Of the redundant Solid Energy employees, 102 would be people employed under the collective agreement terms and conditions and 33 would be management, technical, support services and administrative staff.

The Westport News understands some employees found out today whether they had jobs, but many still don't know. They will have to decide whether to take redundancy or apply for the remaining jobs.

The selection process will take 10 days and applicants will know the outcome by the end of July.

The cuts are expected to save $60 million but Stockton still expects a $61 million loss next financial year.

Mr Clifford said last month that Stockton might face more job losses if international coal prices fell further.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union West Coast organiser Garth Elliott said today that workers were expecting Solid Energy to confirm its restructuring plans, "but it's still a hard blow".

"They've got good redundancy, compensation payments in there but at the end of the day, when that money runs out, things are going to get tough."

Some workers would be under pressure to leave Westport because there were few other job options, Mr Elliott said.

Buller Mayor Garry Howard said today's announcement was as expected, although the retention of two threatened jobs was something to be grateful for. He felt for mine families facing a difficult few weeks.

He estimated the job losses would suck $16m from the local economy.

Today's announcement caps off a bad few weeks for Buller. Another of its big employers, OceanaGold, announced a fortnight ago that it was laying off 60 workers - about a quarter of its 240-strong workforce - at its Reefton mine in response to poor international gold prices.

This week Holcim New Zealand confirmed it would wind down its Westport plant, which employs about 120, from the second half of 2016. The company plans to import cement.

Yesterday SGS New Zealand revealed six staff at its Ngakawau laboratory would be made redundant. The laboratory's main customer is Stockton Mine.

The only bright spot for jobs has been the Government's decision to allow logging of windblown trees on conservation land. However, any extra employment created is unlikely to make much impact on the mining job losses.

- By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

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