British Coal urges pit rule rethink

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The Independent Online
BRITISH COAL has asked the Government to repeal legislation on working practices which it claims is outdated and prevents the company from competing effectively, writes Mary Fagan.

Neil Clarke, chairman, said changes in the rules could increase productivity by 10 per cent over existing targets and enable British Coal to match the price of imported coal and other cheap fuels within a few years.

The changes proposed could mean some pits working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At present, work at the coal face lasts between 15 and 17 hours and is usually limited to five days a week.

Extending time underground is one of the proposals. Under the 1908 Coal Mines Regulation Act, this is limited to 7.5 hours in any one shift. With travel time, the coal face is often worked for only five hours a shift.

Kevan Hunt, director for employee relations, said that the unit costs of mining coal were already to be cut by 28 per cent over the next few years. Changes in working practices could shave off another 10 per cent.

British Coal has also asked the Government to delay the Sizewell B nuclear power plant and to refuse requests to extend the life of older nuclear plants. It also wants intervention to curb the 'dash for gas' in generation and to stop imports from France.