10 Dec 2010

Workers told of significant cuts at Pike River mine

10:19 pm on 10 December 2010

Workers at a West Coast coal mine in which 29 men were killed have been told there will be significant job cuts.

Pike River Coal employed 180 people before the disaster, which began on 19 November when the first of a series of explosions happened at the mine near Greymouth.

Management from Pike River Coal spoke with employees on Friday.

Chief executive Peter Whittall told Radio New Zealand a major chunk of the existing workforce will have to be laid-off while the mine is closed for the recovery of the bodies.

"Obviously, we don't need to cut coal or process coal or maintain equipment during that phase, so we've given a fairly strong indication to the workforce today that we'll be making significant reductions in our workforce."

Mr Whittall said the exact number of jobs and positions to go had yet to be decided and further meetings with the workers are planned.

He said it was "heartbreaking" to make the announcement that he did not know when or if he could re-employ them.

"I've stood in front of that workforce so many times when we've inducted them and brought them on as new employees and told them what a great future they were going to have with Pike."

Mr Whittall said the company would do all it can "right down to the last dollar" to reopen the mine and recover the bodies.

Meanwhile, police on Friday announced they are starting to hand control of the recovery operation back to Pike River Coal.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said the emergency response role is coming to a natural end.

Mr Broad says entry to the mine is not likely in the medium term and the coroner is satisfied he has the evidence he needs.

Pike River Coal's management is best placed to run the process from this point, he said.