GAVIN WILLIAMS will be a willing participant on the final march planned for Saturday December 19 to mark the closure of Kellingley Colliery.
Unlike some of his workmates, the 44-year-old has never harboured reservations about the need to mark the end of deep coalmining in the UK.
“There have always been various trains of thought about what we should do but everyone agrees this is not something that should be celebrated,” said Mr Williams.
“We are the last mine, the last men to work underground in an industry that has been the backbone of the country for untold generations and it would be wrong not to mark such an important day.
“It’s unlikely that the pits will ever open again: for the memory of all those whose lives have been touched by mining, we owe it to them to do the right thing.”
Mr Williams entered the mining industry as a 16-year-old apprentice fitter with British Coal at their Allerton Bywater workshops near Castleford and had no desire to work underground.
“I turned down the chance to become an apprentice draughtsman because the manager at Allerton Bywater promised me I’d have a job for life,” he recalled.
“Job security was important to me but three years later they closed down the workshops and I had two choices: to start looking for a job elsewhere or accept their offer of a transfer to Kellingley.
“It was a no-brainer. Kellingley was a ‘superpit’ with massive coal reserves: I thought I’d be here forever.”
When Mr Williams first signed in at Kellingley the pit employed 1,600 people: now, 25 years on, a quarter of that figure remain. For just a few more days, at least.
Like many of his peers, Mr Williams feels badly let down by the Government and the UK Coal management team over their lack of investment and belief in an industry which has experienced accelerated decline since the fateful strike of 1984-85.
“Mining has long been regarded as a militant industry but that’s not been the case in recent years,” he said. “We’ve tried to work with the management and have put forward lots of ways in which the pit could be saved. No-one has ever really listened, though.
“Eighteen months ago we were told that the only option was a managed closure programme because they were running out of money to keep the pit open.”
When the Kellingley miners were informed of the closure plan, UK Coal warned the pit could close immediately without a significant cash injection reported to be £20m. The Government pledged £10m and a deal was brokered with Hargreaves and Harworth Estates to invest the remaining £10m
However when that deal broke down, UK Coal received just £4m from central Government and a further £10m loan earlier this year.
Relationships between the miners and colliery management have become increasingly strained over the terms of redundancy programmes: the enhanced redundancy terms that miners received up to this year expired at the same time as a pay deal in December 2013. As a result, statutory redundancy payments are now capped at £14,250.
Many of the men who have left in the recent redundancy rounds have had assistance from Jobcentre Plus to retrain: Mr Williams is planning to complete a course in health and safety.
“There is some animosity towards the management and the ‘us and them’ mentality but it’s unavoidable really,” he added.
“However at the end of the day they’re in the same boat as we are and are going to be out of a job.”
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