Coal production ceases at 'reprieved' Derbyshire pit

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THE GRADUAL and unpublicised closure of coal mines took a critical step forward yesterday when production ceased at one of the 12 'reprieved' pits.

British Coal officials refused to comment last night, but Markham Colliery in Derbyshire is the first of 12 pits being 'market-tested' to stop cutting coal. All but a handful of the men at the pit voted to accept an enhanced redundancy package which the management said would be withdrawn tomorrow if they refused to accept. If the miners had carried on working, some could have lost more than pounds 12,000, industry sources say.

Markham is one of three pits, out of those being being market- tested, which management is now seeking to close. Miners at Rufford in Nottinghamshire have voted to close their pit.

Gordon Butler, the National Union of Mineworkers' senior official in Derbyshire, said management had bought off resistance by offering different sets of workers fresh severance terms. Only 100 face workers are left as employees of British Coal and they have now accepted the redundancy deal, he said. The rest had continued working at the colliery, but for contractors. It was 'privatisation by stealth'. The pit is now on 'care and maintenance', presumably waiting for a private buyer, the union believes.

Mr Butler said: 'You get interviewed on television to explain what's happening to the industry, but you've only got

2 minutes 30 seconds at the most. You cannot explain how corrupt they've been. Ministers say the men closed the pit, but they don't tell you what pressure they've been put under or about the financial inducements.'

He predicted that similar tactics would be tried at all 12 pits under market-testing.

Rufford and Silverdale in Nottinghamshire and Markham were among the 12 mines that ministers said would be subsidised after a backbench revolt in March over pit closures.