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Engineering Union "irresponsible"

10 November 2009

Engineering Union “irresponsible”

Solid Energy is calling on the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union to put an immediate stop to industrial action at Solid Energy mines and to let people go back to work so that all sides can resume negotiations for a new Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA).

Solid Energy Chief Operating Officer, Barry Bragg, says the union has been irresponsible in drawing Solid Energy staff into a separate dispute between miners in the Waikato and their employer which has nothing to do with the company’s South Island operations. About 820 miners are currently on strike in the Waikato and on the West Coast in support of 180 workers who have been on strike for two weeks after a breakdown in negotiations with their employer, HWE Mining Ltd. HWE Mining Ltd operates Rotowaro Opencast Mine for Solid Energy.

“Solid Energy has done all we can to offer support, both direct and indirect and through a mediator, to find a way for the current industrial action to be lifted so that we can return to good faith bargaining. Specifically we’ve been working hard to find a way to help HWE Mining Ltd and their employees to resume talks.

“Unfortunately we’ve not been successful and we’re still at an impasse with the union refusing to budge. They’re effectively saying to us and other employers in the collective agreement ‘we don’t want to negotiate, give us what we want now or we won’t go back to work’. That’s not good faith bargaining, it’s not acceptable to us and it wouldn’t be acceptable to any employer.

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“The union’s strategy of prolonged strike action has put our operations even further at risk. “The current action cost us $10 million in lost revenue in the last week. If we start to lose customer orders, then we will have no choice but to cut jobs.

“The last 12 months have been very difficult for the company as we try to set up our operations for a long term future. The company and our staff, working together, have made some great progress, but the current industrial action is unravelling all the good work to secure customer orders in the ongoing difficult trading environment. In the South Island this is stopping us from getting Stockton Mine working safely again at 2008 production levels. At Spring Creek it’s undermining all the good work that’s been done in recent months to produce a reliable supply of high quality coal for our international customers.

“At Huntly East Mine in the Waikato we’ve been talking to our workforce and the union for some time about the need to move to a seven-day production roster to increase coal production and put the mine on a sound financial footing. Our customers now have no choice but to buy imported coal to maintain their businesses, but if this action continues, they’ll have to make ongoing alternative arrangements for their coal supply or in some cases they may have to shut down production. We will all lose as a result.”

Barry Bragg adds: “We made a record profit in the last financial year on the back of high international coal prices for the first five months, but since the economic downturn we have struggled to make a profit. As a result we’ve been working with all our operations to cut costs and improve productivity. We know this is difficult for our people as we’re asking them to make changes to how they work, but these changes are critical for the long-term survival of the business.”


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