WELLINGTON (AFP) – Most of the remaining workforce at a New Zealand colliery where 29 miners died in an explosion last month were sacked Tuesday in a move unions said was a cruel blow before Christmas.
Receiver PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) said 114 of the 157 employees at Pike River Coal would be made redundant immediately as the mine struggles to cope with the financial fallout from the disaster.
PwC’s John Fisk said the workers, whose colleagues were trapped when an explosion tore through the mine on November 19 and confirmed dead after another blast five days later, were entitled to a maximum payout of 18,700 dollars (14,040 US).
The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), which represents New Zealand’s mining sector, said it was concerned they would be left out of pocket.
The redundancies were “a cruel blow just a couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday” , EPMU national secretary Andrew Little told Radio New Zealand.
Pike River’s largest shareholder New Zealand Oil & Gas called in the receivers Monday, saying the mine had debts that exceeded its funding and was “rapidly facing insolvency”.
The colliery remains closed and emergency crews have not been able to recover the miners’ remains entombed within, but Pike River chiefs have expressed hopes it will eventually reopen as a going concern.
Local mayor Tony Kokshoorn said businesses that contributed to the massive rescue operation may never be paid for their services because PwC had classified them as unsecured creditors.
“A lot of them on good faith went up the mountain. They assumed if the police were operating a search and rescue operation they would be paid back,” he told the NZ Herald, adding some businesses were owed 50,000 dollars.
“There needs to be some collective responsibility for this.”