Coal not dole as collieries plan to recruit miners again

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The Independent Online

Britain's most indefatigable coal mine is, temporarily at least, heading back again from the brink of extinction after its operator last night announced plans to increase its workforce for the first time since the industry was privatised.

Britain's most indefatigable coal mine is, temporarily at least, heading back again from the brink of extinction after its operator last night announced plans to increase its workforce for the first time since the industry was privatised.

Electricians, fitters and underground workers are once again being sought for Ellington colliery in the Northumbrian village of Ashington by RJB Mining, which also announced plans yesterday to rebuild the workforce at Clipstone colliery in Nottingham.

Both pits appeared doomed until April when trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers announced £100m of aid to prop up the 17 remaining deep mines in Britain.

Many analysts believed the hand-out to be a crude political gesture to keep the pits open before the next general election - Mr Byers' own constituency lies close to Ellington - but the 90-year-old pit, affectionately known to locals as "The Big E", was grateful for any future.

"Only five months ago people here were facing a lifetime on the dole," said Northumberland's National Union of Mineworkers secretary at the time.

Ellington was mothballed and apparently doomed when RJB bought it from British Coal for £800m in 1994, but by last November the firm was insisting that cheap foreign imports had made the exploitation of the mine's seams in deep sandstone beds beneath the North Sea financially untenable.

The subsidy - which had been unexpected and was reported to have followed fierce disagreements over state aid within the Department of Trade and Industry - was a shadow of the £2.32bn German mines receive and ominously coincided with the lifting of restrictions on building new gas-fired power stations, the main competition to coal generation.

More optimistic analysts believe, however, that the two-year period of subsidies will buy time for European Union trade agreements, which will open up new export markets for British coal.

RJB said it was looking to recruit 150 ex-miners to work at its collieries throughout the Midlands, North-east and Yorkshire. The staff would help maintain state-of-the-art mining equipment and access and develop coal faces in new reserves.

The company's deep mines managing director, Alec Galloway, said: "We are told there are many experienced former miners out there who want to get back into the industry, so now's their chance."

RJB has not advertised for workers since 1994, filling its scarce available vacancies with workers transferred from closed pits.

It also plans to recruit around 100 school-leavers over the next 18 months for electrical, mechanical and mining craft apprenticeships.

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