8 May 2015

Westport faces uncertain future

10:12 am on 8 May 2015

The future of a small West Coast town looks grim following Solid Energy's announcement that another 113 workers will lose their jobs.

Workers attend today's meeting at the Stockton mine.

Workers attend yesterday's meeting at Stockton Mine near Westport. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou

Westport was still dealing with the first round of redundancies at the Stockton opencast coal mine last year and now needs to act quickly if it is to survive.

The loss of the 113 jobs at Stockton equates to $10 million in wages that will no longer be going into the Westport economy.

Buller mayor Garry Howard said while he did not want any of the redundant workers to uproot their families and leave Westport, they would not have any other choice.

"We're absolutely realists and we haven't got replacement jobs and we're not going to have replacement jobs in two to three months as redundancies come though, we're still working through the redundancies from June last year."

He said Solid Energy was doing everything it could in the wake of low coal prices internationally and pressure on production but that did not help the affected workers.

To make matters worse, cement company Holcim will close its manufacturing plant in Westport within the next 12 months, meaning another 120 jobs will be lost.

Mr Howard said the town could no longer rely on mining, and would need help to expand its economy.

"It's a region ... that does need regional development," he said.

"[The regions are] where the wealth of New Zealand is, we are the producers of the primary products that actually pay the overseas bills."

Huge trucks move high-grade coal from a stockpile at the Stockton Mine near Westport.

A file photo from 2009 shows huge trucks moving high-grade coal from a stockpile at Stockton Mine. Photo: 123RF

A fixed plant operator at Stockton Mine, Alan Bliss, said workers were expecting more job cuts.

"I thought it was probably better than what we thought it was going to be," he said.

"[I was expecting] more redundancies and part of it to go into care and maintenance but I knew they would keep going because we've got so many others that depend on us, like railways and you've got [the Port of] Lyttelton."

Mr Bliss said he had accepted that he would likely be leaving Stockton.

"I know I can probably get work, so I'm not that bad and my partner, she works full time.

"I'll probably put my hand up [for redundancy] and leave my job for one of the local guys."

He said many workers had bought homes in the "boom times" and had big mortgages.

John Rae has worked at the mine, on and off, for 40 years.

He said he was relieved Stockton was not being mothballed but said Solid Energy should have curbed its spending years ago.

"Us old people have been through this restructuring time and time again, but management don't seem to ever learn something out of it with their gross spending and all this stuff.

''It's an absolute gross mismanagement, no matter how you kick it round, that's it," he said.

Solid Energy chief executive Dan Clifford said the company could not rule out putting the mine into care and maintenance if coal prices did not improve and said he felt for the affected workers and their families.

"It is a painful situation. The best thing we can do is stabilise the company as best we can and keep as many people in employment."

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