Fight to keep workers at colliery

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A MINING union will now fight to keep skilled workers in their jobs as they campaign to keep Kellingley Colliery open long term.

Keith Hartshorne, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) delegate at the North Yorkshire Colliery, said the union’s priority was to keep staff facing redundancy in May and October in their jobs as long as possible while they look at measures to keep the colliery in business past October 2015.

Workers voted to support UK Coal’s 18-month managed closure in a ballot announced yesterday.

Mr Hartshorne said: “We still have a few irons in the fire. We’re pursuing European aid and still asking questions as to why the issue is not being pursued.

“The EU are about to announce they will give £250m to the White Rose Carbon Capture project at Drax Power Station. Just a small percentage of that would keep us going.

“Morale is really down. There has been a bit of uncertainty lifted now the ballot is over but nobody wants to shut the pit down.”

Drax is just ten miles from Kellingley, and uses 90 per cent of the coal produced there. The White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage project would mean the construction of a new coal-powered plant next to the existing facility near Selby.

Redundancies announced for May are the “first hurdle”, said Mr Hartshorne. The union believes the colliery, which has reserves that will last another two decades, can be made profitable.

“We’re trying to ensure that everyone who wants to remain here does so until at least October. We need to keep a skilled workforce together in case we can keep the pit open long term.

“If we can keep the skill base together until October when the next group of men are due to go then we have time to work on a solution.

“We’ll keep working to their plan, but we’re mapped out until 2023. There’s plenty of coal there, There’s plenty beyond that. We know we can make it profitable.

“There are mines closing in America so cheap imports will dry up very quickly. We don’t want to end up paying through the nose for our coal just like we have done with gas and oil.

Shadow Home Secretary and Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper, whose constituency borders the colliery said, backed the union’s call.

She said: “The workforce have made clear they will do everything they can to keep Kellingley open. But this only gives us breathing space. UK Coal and the Government now need to draw up a longer term plan, working with other private investors and Europe to bring in more support.

“They need to act fast or it will be too late. A deal to close Kellingley in 2015 isn’t good enough. We need fast action before all the development workers are made redundant to deliver a longer term future for the pit.

A petition organised by Ms Cooper has been signed by more than 1,100 people. She also highlighted the need to keep a steady supply of home-produced coal.

“Britain will still rely on coal for years to come and clean coal technology is under development at Drax right now. Kellingley still has plenty of reserves, so we don’t need to be entirely dependent on imports - especially from Russia.

“It’s still possible to get a deal to secure the long term future of Kellingley and the future of the deep coal industry in Britain, but the Government and the company need to step up and put the work in now to make sure that happens before time runs out.”

Wakefield, North Yorkshire and Selby councils have been working together to provide a package of support to the workforce to find new jobs and opportunities.