'Militant' miners turn in pounds 2m profit at buy-out pit

Industrial revolution: Workers at 'hit-list' colliery strike rich seam of success
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The Independent Online

After nearly a year running the last deep coal pit in South Wales, the miners at Tower colliery have confounded the sceptics and their former British Coal employers by generating substantial profits and a full order book.

The miners battled against closure, arguing that the pit was potentially profitable and there was demand for the high-quality anthracite that the mine at Aberdare, Mid-Glamorgan, produces. Their belief that factors other than profitability were the issue in the mine's closure appears vindicated.

Full details of the first-year profits will not be revealed until next month, but analysts are predicting a figure in excess of pounds 2m. The bulk is earmarked for investment, but the 239 miners and support staff who put up pounds 8,000 each to fund the workers' buy-out could each receive a pounds 1,000- plus dividend.

Tower had envisaged producing 390,000 tonnes of coal this year. But such has been the success in exploiting new markets that the figure has had to be revised up to 450,000.

The future also looks secure with a full order book for next year, and 60 per cent of the coal output for the following three years already contracted. The colliery has a turnover of more than pounds 20m a year.

Tyrone O'Sullivan, the former NUM lodge secretary at Tower, and now the personnel manager and a director of the company, has been a driving force behind the success of the workers' buy-out. The pit has also recruited key professional staff, including a number of the former management team from the days when it was owned by British Coal.

Mr O'Sullivan said: "We haven't tried to turn miners into financial directors. We have gone out and got top people for the senior management jobs. We all knew this pit had huge potential and when we had a meeting and the boys were given a chance to go for a buy-out they were all behind it. Their confidence and hard work has been vindicated."

He said when the workers first took control the banks did not believe coal could be produced immediately and they wanted to lend money to tide Tower over the first few months. It was not needed. There were 2,000 tonnes of coal on the first day and 8,000 in the first week.

Pay and conditions are unrivalled anywhere in Britain. A surface worker is on a basic weekly wage pounds 70 higher than any other pit, and no man goes underground for less than pounds 303.

Miners at Tower had a reputation for militancy but Mr O'Sullivan believes this was due to British Coal's management approach. He cites as an example sick pay. Miners got only 80 per cent of their wages when sick because British Coal claimed absenteeism would soar if they were given full money. That policy has been changed and the absence rate this year has been 0.03 per cent.

Mr O'Sullivan said: "There is a great spirit here. Everybody wants to see the company do well. They have a stake in its future and are in charge of their own destiny."

The local community is also benefiting. Wherever possible, work that has to be contracted out goes within the Cynon Valley, and pounds 18,000 has been given in sponsorship to local organisations.

Mining at the Tower site began in 1864, and a visitors' centre is being created to celebrate its history. The miners' efforts have now ensured the future.