MORE than 540 mineworkers are facing up to redundancy today at news Maltby Colliery is to be mothballed.
Union leaders are putting together a rescue package in the hope of saving 541 jobs, and 100 years of tradition.
NUM general secretary Chris Kitchen said: “People are devastated. There is a feeling of dismay. But we don’t want to accept defeat if there is still a chance.” Lifelong Maltby residents warned closure of the colliery would sound the death knell of the town. “Once it goes Maltby will be dead altogether,” said one.
Miners’ leaders are launching a bid to keep Maltby Colliery open - and save 541 miners’ jobs.
Owners Hargreaves Services say the colliery, one of England’s last remaining deep coal mines, is no longer viable on geological, financial, and health and safety grounds.
They propose to mothball the pit, putting all 541 employees at risk of redundancy - and putting an end to a coal-producing history which has spanned more than 100 years.
But Chris Kitchen, National Secretary of the Barnsley-based National Union of Mineworkers, said: “We’ve been invited by the company to come up with a rescue package and we will be taking up that invitation.
“This isn’t a closure announcement. It’s an announcement of potential mothballing, so there is hope.
“There’s coal there and an experienced workforce prepared to mine it. We just need to put those two elements together in a safe environment that will keep the pit open.”
The company said it will continue to consult with unions, and asked for any alternative proposals to be tabled by November 30.
Spokesman Mike O’Sullivan said: “Staff have been very professional. We are consulting with unions to work towards a conclusion.”
Mr Kitchen, who said the union had around 300 members working at Maltby pit, said the mood among workers and in Maltby was one of dismay.
“I think people are devastated and that is a sentiment echoed by the union. We haven’t got may pits left and we need to protect the ones we’ve got.
“There is a feeling of dismay. It’s not a surprise as we have been on notice there would be possible job losses, but it’s always a shock when it comes.
“We don’t want to accept defeat if there is still a chance.”
Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley whose constituency covers Maltby, said: “It was expected but everyone is a bit shocked.
“There is still coal down there but getting to it is going to cost some money and it’s a question of how much needs to be spent getting to it.
“It’s not good from the workforce’s point of view. The pit is very symbolic in Maltby and transformed it into an industrial village.”
Rotherham Council leader Coun Roger Stone said it was ‘extremely sad’.
“From a heritage point of view it’s sad because it is Rotherham’s last deep mine,” he said. “But more importantly it is an extremely sad and worrying time for the employees.”
Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, said: “I am desperately worried about the threat to Maltby Colliery. Maltby has a long and proud mining history and it would be a sad day if the pit has to close. Many of my constituents work at the pit and I will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the NUM in the fight to ensure Maltby has a future.”
Hargreaves chief executive Gordon Banham said Maltby coal reserves would last until 2023 - but it was too dangerous and too expensive to mine it.
Maltby produces more than a million tonnes of coal a year, with around 60 per cent of its output supplied under a long-term contract with Drax, Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant.
Much of the remaining production is sent to Hargreaves’ Monckton works near Barnsley, which produces 200,000 tonnes of coke for use in the production of glass, detergents and steel manufacturing.
The company first disclosed problems at Maltby in May, although mining has continued since then.