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Spring Creek miners left with 'no choice' but to leave NZ

Published: 1:10PM Thursday October 25, 2012 Source: ONE News

The union representing miners has criticised the Government and Solid Energy for giving Spring Creek workers with no choice but to leave the country.

The state owned company confirmed at a meeting in Dunollie this afternoon that around 220 staff at the Spring Creek mine and nearby Rocky Creek coal handling and processing plant would be made redundant.

ONE News has been told that most of those made redundant will head overseas or to Christchurch to seek employment.

The EPMU says the miners and the local Greymouth community have been dealt a significant blow by the Government.

"Each of these redundancies represents a family losing its livelihood and in many cases being forced to leave the West Coast in search of work," said EPMU West Coast organiser Garth Elliott.

"For many families their only choice will be to join the exodus of skilled workers heading overseas."

Those laid off have been told they can reapply for 16 care and maintenance jobs while the mine is mothballed. Four jobs will be available at Rocky Creek, Solid Energy said.

The news is even worse for two Britons recruited from the UK last year.

They now face the possibility of losing their working visa if they are unable to find another job.

"We've come over, kept our side of the bargain and they have let us down," said redundant miner Mark Pointon.

"He said he's going to try and sort our visas out, our residency, but it's Solid Energy we're dealing with so I don't have much hope."

Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder said he was 80% positive the company will find a new investor but that would not have an impact in the short term.

"The international markets are such that even a new investor wouldn't be able to support us opening the mine in the foreseeable future," said Elder.

He said the company was "very aware" of the impact its decision will have on the West Coast economy. However, Elder said "given the current outlook for international semi-soft coking coal prices, the Spring Creek operation remains uneconomic".

The underground West Coast coalmine's future had been uncertain since the state-owned enterprise suspended operations in August, pending a review of its viability.

The mine is a major employer on the West Coast of the South Island, with around half the people with jobs in the region relying on mining.

Prime Minister John Key told ONE News the redundancies were the Government's least preferred position.

"But it's a statement of the reality of what's happening in coal mining right around the world," said Key.