Coal reopens 6,000 pounds pay offer: Tribunal rules that unions may have influenced miners who said no earlier

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The Independent Online
BRITISH Coal has reopened a pounds 6,000 top-up deal on pay and conditions for almost 3,000 miners and pit officials after a court ruled that many of those who rejected the package had been influenced by unions and were confused at the time of the offer earlier this year.

The decision is a blow to the colliery officials' union, Nacods, which rejected the package and wanted British Coal to be forced back to the negotiating table.

Peter McNestry, Nacods secretary, complained that members had been placed under duress by British Coal to accept the proposal, which also involves changes in working practices.

The National Reference Tribunal, the coal industry court, said earlier this week that British Coal had not applied undue pressure and that the deal was as advantageous as could be achieved.

'Our decision is therefore that we should not, as Mr McNestry asked us to do, order that the parties go back to the position obtaining at 19 May and start negotiations afresh.' The ruling added that members rejecting the deal on Nacods' advice should not be penalised.

The package offered each worker a one-off immediate payment of pounds 6,000 and up to pounds 27,000 in severance pay should they be made redundant in the next four years. In return, workers had to agree new, flexible working conditions. Those who rejected the deal by 20 May were entitled only to the state minimum if they lost their jobs.

British Coal will pay the initial pounds 6,000, but any company buying into British Coal in the course of privatisation will have to honour the package if it cuts jobs. The company has about 12,000 employees.

Separately, the Department of Trade and Industry has invited bids from companies wanting to distribute concessionary coal for former British Coal employees and their families.

The Government will maintain responsibility for providing the free coal after privatisation.

It goes to 208,000 people and could cost pounds 1.5bn over several decades.