13 Mar 2013

Workers want answers from Solid Energy boss

9:28 am on 13 March 2013

Workers who lost their jobs at Solid Energy are among those most eager to hear what former chief executive Don Elder has to say to Parliament's commerce committee on Thursday.

The state owned enterprise has granted approval for Dr Elder to appear before the select committee.

He was absent for last week's financial review of the coal miner, which is $389 million in debt and in crisis talks with banks and the Treasury.

In a statement released late on Monday night, Dr Elder said it was his intention to appear before the committee on Thursday, pending approval from Solid Energy.

The company has now confirmed in a letter to Dr Elder that he is free to attend the meeting.

Solid Energy's former chairperson, John Palmer, will also be present.

About 440 Solid Energy staff and contractors have been made redundant since last year, most of them at Spring Creek mine near Greymouth.

One of the Greymouth miners, Daryl Sweetman, who lost his job in November, says he has been following Solid Energy's operating problems closely and wants Dr Elder to tell the committee what went wrong and how.

He also wants the company's board to accept responsibility for its failures.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union assistant national secretary Jed O'Connell says Dr Elder's actions are more important than his words.

He says the best jesture Dr Elder can make is to put some of the money he's made from Solid Energy into a trust fund for the workers and their families.

Dr Elder resigned last month but remains on full pay in an advisory role with the company until April.

Strategy manager backs peformance

Solid Energy's strategy manager Bill Luff has defended Dr Elder's performance as chief executive.

Mr Luff told Morning Report that a decade ago, the company was still largely dependent on its government shareholder and the banks and was in much the same position as it is now.

However, he says that changed under Dr Elder, with the company generating more than $6 billion in revenue during his tenure.

Mr Luff says Solid Energy is now returning to its core business of coalmining in light of its debt crisis.

He says the company had a strategy of diversifying the risk of relying just on coal, but it has hugely reduced that diversification focus and returned to the conventional coal business.

Prime Minister John Key has said the Government was at logger-heads with the company for 18 months about its direction, including investments in alternative energy projects.

Mr Key says no one is questioning that Dr Elder genuinely wanted to do a good job for the state owned enterprise.