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Police pull out of Pike River operation

Published: 6:19PM Friday December 10, 2010 Source: ONE News

Police have tonight confirmed that they are handing over the recovery operation at the Pike River coal mine to the company management.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said in a statement that with the GAG machine in place, the mine was more stable and that it was time to plan for the next steps.

The West Coast mine remains closed after the explosions last month, which took the lives of 29 workers.

A fire in the mine has prevented recovery of the bodies and the GAG unit - a jet engine working to clear the mine of gases - is still trying to extinguish the blaze.

Broad said that the police role to this point had been to co-ordinate the emergency response and incident management, and that that was now at an end point.

He said the mine management were now best placed to run the process and this would happen in conjunction with the Department of Labour whose key interest is in safety.

Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall said he was expecting the handover to come at some stage.

"It's probably inevitable for the police, at some stage ... to get to point where they need to start pulling back as the primary agency in charge."

Broad stressed that the primary interest of the police remains in the recovery of the men, should this ever be possible.

He said there would be a period of time before the handover and from there Pike River would no doubt be assessing its options for the future.

"They have some significant hurdles to overcome to operate a safe mine."

Broad met with families in Greymouth today to inform them of the discussions and explain the process under way.

Job losses

A number of Pike River employees will lose their jobs following the series of explosions at the West Coast mine in recent weeks.

ONE News understands workers were told in a meeting earlier today that the redundancy process had started.

The EPMU, the union representing the miners, estimates that 90% of workers will lose their jobs and another 10% will be left in a care and maintenance team.

EPMU president Andrew Little said the announcement was not unexpected and he believes it is realistic.

"As the days have worn on, the men have been expecting that they are not going to go back mining anytime soon."

He said the workers had known that the news was coming.

"A lot of the guys have been looking for other work.

"As a union we will work with other mining companies that we know and see if there are other oppositions we can assist the men to go to if they want to stay in the industry."

However Pike River Mine said it was not yet ready to announce numbers and positions and estimates were premature at this stage.

"There's still a little bit of work to go. We've had our first meeting with them this afternoon, one of several meetings," said Whittall.

"We've signalled to them that there will be significant reduction in our numbers."

Whittall said he was not sure when operations at the mine would be able to resume as normal, but that if and when they do, they would look to reemploy.

"There's a number of inquiries to go through as well a Royal Commission underway.

"So we need to scale down our workforce to be able to get through this inquiry period and to have sufficient skills on site to be able to reopen the mine if and when we can."

Whittall said workers would still receive their Christmas bonuses and any holiday pay they were owed.

He denied speculation he was quitting, saying he first read about that in the paper.

Another meeting is being held this evening and Pike River said workers would have more clarity over the situation next week.

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