Stockton mine jobs on the line

Just six days before Christmas, Stockton opencast mine workers could find out if they'll be celebrating or commiserating.

They'll meet in Westport at 4pm tomorrow to again discuss Solid Energy's plans to cut mine costs.

The company warned a fortnight ago that Stockton could suffer "significant" job losses before Christmas unless machinery operators agreed to change from 12-hour to 10-hour shifts.

Solid Energy communications director Vicki Blyth said yesterday that the mine would suspend all operational work tomorrow afternoon so workers on the collective agreement could attend the meeting.

"That means that collective staff on site will leave about 3pm to attend the meeting and night shift staff will start on shift after the meeting ends. This arrangement only affects collective staff."

Solid Energy's general manager, opencast, Stephen Esposito, would address the meeting which had been organised by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, Ms Blyth said.

Machinery operators voted 192-52 last month against the 10-hour shift proposal. They said it would cut their pay by 17 per cent - between $9000 and $13,000 a year.

Solid Energy said it would provide enough savings to keep the mine viable. The company said Stockton had cut $32m from its budget, but needed to save more.

The mine has already shed a substantial number of jobs. The News revealed last week that it had 237 fewer workers on site on December 5 than six months earlier. The number had fallen from 1103 to 866 in that time, although the company noted contractors' numbers fluctuate.

- By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

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