Miners ready to strike over pay-cut deal

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THE BRITISH coal industry could face its first all-out strike for 15 years over a five-year pay offer involving an annual cut in real wage rates.

Both the National Union of Mineworkers and the rebel Union of Democratic Mine- workers, the group that helped to break the year-long stoppage in 1984- 85, are threatening industrial action. Management at RJB Mining, which bought the lion's share of the privatised industry, has offered a deal in which basic rates would increase by 1 percentage point less than inflation in each of five years.

Neil Greatrex, the president of the moderate UDM, said: "No union leader in his right mind is going to put his name to a deal in which pay fails to keep pace with the inflation rate."

It is the first time his union, whose members crossed picket lines during the conflict in the Eighties, has prepared for a national strike ballot.

The company is in the middle of negotiations to supply PowerGen, National Power and Eastern Electricity with coal over the next three years. Management has said the Government is pressing the company to curb the pay of miners, although ministers have denied applying such pressure.

The City believes the company desperately needs to cut costs and argues a strike would be damaging and possibly fatal to the viability of the 16 collieries owned by RJB. Last month, the company posted pre-tax profits of pounds 44.7m, nearly 50 per cent down on the same period the previous year.

A spokesman for RJB said the company hoped to resolve its differences with unions and had not yet finalised its proposals. "Talk of industrial action is premature," the spokesman said. He said the offer involved the consolidation of some miners' bonuses into basic wages, which would give employees higher guaranteed earnings. The "inflation-minus" element would apply to the new enhanced basic wages and not to gross pay as whole.

Mr Greatrex said Richard Budge, the chief executive of the company, had continually "moved the goal posts". Talks had broken down and management had warned it would impose the deal next month with or without the agreement of the unions.

The National Union of Mineworkers said it had reached an impasse with Mr Budge.