9 Mar 2012

Layoffs among staff working on recovery of Pike bodies

8:27 am on 9 March 2012

Families of miners killed in the Pike Rive explosion say they are philosophical about news nine recovery workers are to be made redundant by the mine's receivers.

The spokesperson for some of the families, Bernie Monk, says while it is sad news for those who are losing their jobs, it does mean the work is progressing to a stage where specialist workers need to be brought in.

He says after current staff have cleared the mine as far as the rockfall blocking the tunnel, an Australian team will work to ventilate the rest of the mine.

Mr Monk says time is now of the essence, because the changing seasons means changing gas levels.

Twenty-nine men died after a series of explosions which began at the West Coast mine on 19 November 2010.

New owners are being sought for the mine, which remains sealed off.

Receiver John Fisk says the continued cost of the recovery was a factor in laying off the nine men.

But he says 10 staff are still being employed to try to get the bodies back, and this work won't be slowed because of the redundancies.

The next stage includes de-gassing work. "Any actual walk-in to the mine could be up to two months away," he said.

Mr Fisk said work on entering the mine has ceased at the direction of the Chief Mines Inspector due to safety concerns but he hopes to have these resolved in two weeks.

Underground fitter Paul Ireland, who has been made redundant, says if the mine's receivers run out of money the recovery operation could be abandoned.

He says red tape is stopping the recovery team from entering the mine and believes the remains of the men may never be recovered.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn says the redundancies were expected and do not spell the end of the effort to recover the men's bodies.