Plans for an employee buyout at Kellingley Colliery are on hold after it became clear workers would have to take on at least some of pit owner UK Coal’s debts.
UK Coal planned to close the pit, which employs over 700 people, along with Thoresby Colliery in Nottinghamshire, by December 2015. Co-ownership Solutions was working with unions on a five-year business plan to keep the site working until 2020.
But after discovering the workers would be expected to take on debts, including £8.5m from Thoresby, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) announced the deal was off. Keith Poulson, NUM branch secretary at Kellingley, said workers had already agreed to put in £2,000 and take a 10% wage cut, and could not be expected to contribute more.
According to the NUM, the buyout had been shelved, not abandoned. Taking on Kellingley’s debts was “doable”, but shouldering other liabilities was not realistic, it said.
Andrew Mackintosh of UK Coal said unions had “buried their heads in the sand”. “The company has spent a huge amount of time explaining what would be needed to make the employee buy out scheme viable,” he said. “It was found that the steering committee had failed to pursue any of the recommendations made weeks earlier.
“The proposed plan was totally unviable and concerns were raised by directors that the buy out deal was not accurately presented to Kellingley employees as it did not include millions of pounds of liabilities that would have to be paid.”
UK Coal, which is facing insolvency, is now expected to go ahead with ‘managed closure’ of both pits by the end of 2015. But Yvette Cooper, MP for Pontefract, said she hoped the workforce would pursue a worker-owned solution.
“The government and UK Coal management need to work urgently with the workforce to make this work, instead of just focusing on the closure plan,” she said. The NUM added that Labour could save the pit if it won next year’s general election and stepped in with state aid.