British Coal set to lose court battle over 10 pits

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SENIOR executives at British Coal expect to lose the High Court battle with the unions over the way in which the company handled the planned closure of 10 of the 31 doomed coal mines with the loss of thousands of miners' jobs.

A ruling is expected next Monday in favour of the unions, which are seeking a judicial review of the closure decision. This would represent a moral victory for the mineworkers and could in theory delay the closure of the 10 pits for months. Unlike the other 21 mines on British Coal's closure list, the 10 are not included in the Government's review of the coal industry and energy policy in the UK.

It is thought unlikely, however, that the judge will insist that British Coal re-open the 10 mines, which have stopped production pending the outcome of a 90-day consultation period.

The unions argued that British Coal was in breach of the Employment Protection Act by giving insufficient notice of redundancies and that the company failed to keep to its agreement with unions on the procedure for closing mines.

The 10 mines cited in the case - those earmarked for earliest closure - employed until recently almost 7,500 people. But many of those are believed to be among the 5,300 miners to have opted for redundancy since the announcement of pit closures eight weeks ago.

Management was aiming to shed a total of 25,000 pitmen and about 30,000 people in all as part of its plan to close 31 mines by next March.

In evidence to the Select Committee on Employment, British Coal said that the numbers leaving the industry now amounted to 700 a week.

Meanwhile, British Coal sources believe the industry could be privatised piecemeal. A senior official said that some of the collieries on the hit list could be put up for sale individually without significant changes to legislation.