In an unusual meeting of minds, Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, and Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, both calculated that the 30,000 redundancies in the mining industry could lead to an extra 70,000 job losses. 'Anything up to 100,000 would be a very modest estimate,' Mr Cook said.
Such a scale of redundancies would cost the taxpayer pounds 2.5bn in benefits and lost taxes over the next three years. Even at the collieries themselves the 30,000 figure was a gross underestimate, Nacods, the moderate pit supervisors' union, argued. Another 15,000 workers employed by private contractors at the 31 collieries to be closed by March would also be casualties.
Thousands of jobs are also at risk among companies which supply equipment to the coal industry, many of which rely on British Coal.
The equipment industry employs 22,000 directly and 50,000 indirectly and has already had to slim down substantially because of previous pit closures, according to the trade organisation representing British mining equipment manufacturers. William Morrell, its director general, said: 'The crisis keeps accelerating, going from bad to worse.' Mr Morrell said that UK mining technology was acknowledged as the best in the world but that efforts to export more were threatened because the skill base was being eroded.
'We have already pared back to the kernel of our expertise. If we lose skills we lose the chance to export. It is self defeating,' he said.
Rail union leaders yesterday demanded a meeting with British Rail over fears that eight coal depots could close with the loss of at least 5,000 jobs. Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT rail union, warned that a total of 13,000 jobs were under threat in BR's freight division because it might not be viable without the coal business.
'Kick away two legs of a table and it collapses,' he said. Another 5,000 workers were under threat in the haulage sector, transport unions believed.
Meanwhile, leaders of electricity unions are calling for a meeting with National Power and PowerGen over the threat to more than 5,000 jobs at 16 coal- fired power stations.
Mr Cook said industrial action was 'a decision for the miners themselves', as Frank Dobson, Labour's employment spokesman, said the miners faced 'substantial problems in taking any effective industrial action'.
'The Coal Board is saying they won't get their redundancy pay if they don't go quietly and also there is a year's supply of coal at the power stations,' Mr Dobson said.
Labour was not offering the miners any advice. 'They are the only people equipped to take the decision about what they should do in these desperate circumstances.'
Some Shadow Cabinet members calculate that miners might vote for strike action but that in reality, pit by pit, most will see little alternative to taking the redundancy package.
Mr Cook said the closure programme could be reversed by halting the 'dash for gas', and that he was writing to the electricity regulator asking him to intervene to protect consumers from having to pay more for electricity.
Elsewhere, Ford yesterday decided to close its Transit van plant at Southampton for a week from Monday because of a slump in orders. The company's plants at Dagenham and Halewood are already on short time. And a mass meeting of workers at British Aerospace, Hatfield, is expected to endorse calls from unions for a year's grace for the plant which the company is set to close.
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