Miners offered new deal: British Coal package would still apply after privatisation

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BRITISH COAL has given miners two weeks to sign up to a package that includes redundancy terms of up to pounds 27,000 in the event of layoffs and an immediate payment of pounds 6,000, in return for agreement on flexible working and a pay freeze.

The package is guaranteed until 1998 and would have to be honoured by companies that succeed British Coal, which is due to be privatised by the end of the year.

British Coal has told the 10,000 remaining miners that unless they sign, they will receive only the statutory benefits of up to pounds 6,150 if they are made redundant. A previous special package offering miners up to pounds 37,000 expired at the end of April. About 30,000 miners have left the industry since October 1992 with an average payment of pounds 27,000.

The new package will meet with opposition from the National Union of Mineworkers because of the changes in working practices. It has already been rejected by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and it is thought that British Coal will now go straight to the men at individual pits.

In return for the redundancy agreement, miners will be asked to accept more flexible working times, based on annual hours. At present they work a five-day week with any weekend working paid at overtime rates. They also work no more than 7.25 hours underground at a time.

British Coal said that the number of basic hours worked in a year would not be increased and that any extra would still be paid at premium overtime rates.

Kevan Hunt, employee relations director, said: 'It is not, and would not be the practice to mess people about. Contrary to some of the scaremongering at pits by people opposed to change, employees will be notified of their rosters well in advance.' He said that the deal would give the industry the best chance of success while offering miners some protection 'against the uncertainties of the future'.

British Coal said that the deal would be withdrawn on 20 May, to enable details to be included in information to be sent to potential buyers.

The Government plans to privatise British Coal in up to five regional packages including both deep and opencast mines. Companies wanting more information on the assets for sale will have to pay pounds 15,000 for the information on each package in which they are interested.

Although the Government is offering about 30 deep mines for sale, only 16 of those are currently in operation by British Coal.

The rest include mines where production has already ceased but which have been kept on a 'care and maintenance' basis or have been leased in recent months to private-sector operators.