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Waikato miners refuse 8.5% increase

26 November 2009

Waikato miners refuse 8.5% increase, continue month-long strike

Solid Energy has rejected a newly tabled demand from striking Huntly East miners for a pay increase totalling 13.5%. The company says the claim is unrealistic given the marginal economics of the mine and greedy both in the current economic climate and relative to other workers in Solid Energy and other New Zealand companies.

Solid Energy Chief Operating Officer, Barry Bragg, says the company cannot and will not meet the workforce’s new demands. The mine is currently only marginally viable and is now under significant threat.

“The future of East Mine is in the hands of 120 striking coal miners and maintenance staff. It’s up to them whether they reconsider and accept our offer or whether they stay on strike indefinitely.”

At a meeting in Huntly this morning, the underground miners voted to reject the offer put to them which included the introduction of a new seven-day roster at East Mine and an 8.5% total annual pay increase. The offer was negotiated between Solid Energy and delegates of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union at talks earlier this week, but delegates refused to recommend the proposal to the Huntly East workforce.

Delegates did endorse a revised offer made to 180 miners working for contractor HWE Mining Ltd at nearby Rotowaro Opencast Mine which was accepted at another meeting this morning but those miners have remained on strike in support of East Mine. Solid Energy miners in the South Island will consider revised offers at meetings tonight.

In addition to site specific arrangements, Solid Energy has offered its unionised employees across the country a 2% increase in base remuneration in year one and a 3% increase in year two. An additional 3% lump sum payment (about $2000 gross) was also offered in recognition of the company’s record profit in the 2009 year.

On top of that Solid Energy has offered Huntly East miners an additional 6.5% for moving to a ‘four days on, 10 hours a day, four days off’ roster (with an optional fifth shift every two weeks). This package would increase their annual base remuneration from $78,832 for their current 40 hour, Monday to Friday week to $85,600 (an 8.5% increase). Yesterday they lodged a new counter claim for an extra 5% for moving to this new roster, taking their total increase to 13.5%.

“We’ve been talking to our staff and the union for months about why East Mine must move to a seven-day roster, already in place at our other mines, to improve the mine’s productivity and viability. Maintenance staff at the mine already work 12 hour shifts. The workforce is already the highest paid in the country. The mine is marginal and has not achieved its production targets in any of the past five years. In rejecting our offering and holding out for a 13.5 % increase the miners have taken this operation to the brink.

“Since record export prices collapse in November 2008 the company has struggled to break even. Without major capital investment, and the seven-day rosters, East Mine has no future. We have today frozen all previously-approved capital expenditure at any mine not in normal operation.

“We’re fast losing credibility with the mine’s main customer, New Zealand Steel, which is importing coal from Indonesia and, if we are unable to guarantee secure, competitive supply to New Zealand Steel the mine has no future,”

“The Engineers’ Union has been irresponsible throughout this action. A month ago, they pulled Solid Energy staff into a dispute between HWE Mining Ltd and their staff which had nothing to do with Huntly East Mine or our South Island operations. The irony is that the dispute which triggered all this is settled, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Solid Energy negotiating team, but we’re now left with the fallout of 300 striking miners.

“Furthermore we don’t believe that union delegates have properly represented our position during this last month of industrial action. Due to current employment legislation we’re not able to talk to our unionised staff direct during bargaining. We’ve asked the union if we can address our workforce to explain our position but they’ve refused. We firmly believe that our workforce and their families want the action to end, but the union and the union delegates are refusing to back down. No one is winning here. But a lot of people are hurting.”

ends

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