Coal not Dole was the simple message carried on banners in the 1980s. Today the same message is being sent to the government following an appeal by UK Coal for £10million of government funding to continue mining operation in the Midlands.
If a solution can not be found UK Coal will be looking at a sale or restructure plans that could affect the rest of the workforce, many of whom are based in the North East. Any restructure or possible wind down of the company must put workers first. Attempts to use liquidation of assets to avoid paying proper redundancy must meet strong opposition from both workers and government.
The news of UK Coals possible demise brings into focus two things which I passionately oppose and have campaigned vehemently against: Compulsory redundancies and opencast coal mining.
My primary concern is for employees. UK Coal must not cut and run: With employment law as it stands it is all too easy for companies to sack workers and liquidate assets, paying off the senior bosses and leaving the state to provide for families of ordinary workers. Early retirement, and voluntary redundancy must be the first options. There is a skills shortage in the renewable, nuclear and oil and gas sectors. David Cameron has blamed EU regulation for his inabilitiy to step in and help miners all history points to Conservatives having a blatant disregard for the livlihoods of workers who spent long days winning the coal on which our industries depended. The government should step in and make sure that the costs of any retraining are met.
My other concern is for the environment, particularly for the restoration of existing coal mines. Opencast mining permanently alters the environment and reduces biodiversity. Badly restored opencast is an unmitigated environmental disaster, that will remain a blight on the landscape for generations.
The future of UK Coal will be of interest to people in the Hexham Constituency. There is a live application large opencast mine atWhittonstall near Hedley on the Hill which is being looked at by planners at Northumberland County Council. I have been involved in the 4 year long campaign to prevent planning permission being granted at Whittonstall and I will be relieved the application is refused but any celebratory drink will taste bittersweet, when thoughts turn to workers at UK Coal who are facing an uncertain future.