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Unions and managers to discuss court ruling

MINING unions and British Coal are to meet in the new year following a row over whether the 10 pits under immediate threat of closure should be brought back into production. The talks will also attempt to thrash out exactly what the High Court meant on Monday when it called for 'independent scrutiny' of the decision to shut the mines by the end of January.

British Coal yesterday conceded that it would have to introduce an indepedent element into the consultation procedure, but rejected the unions' insistence that the pits begin 'coaling' and development work.

Management sources last night conceded that the judgment left considerable room for interpretation and union officials predicted that consultations envisaged by the ruling could take some time. British Coal was still considering an appeal.

Unions were adamant that the judge's suggestion that Boyds, the American mining consultant, should be used an independent scrutineer of the closures, was unacceptable. The company is already working for the Department of Trade and Industry to review the future of the 21 other collieries which the Government intended to close. Peter McNestry, general secretary of Nacods, the pit supervisors' union, said that in a previous report for British Coal on privatisation Boyds had suggested longer shifts and other proposals which would have impaired safety.

Unions pointed out that the High Court's decision would require the appointment of a jointly agreed independent panel to assess the unions' arguments. The judge said that any new consultation procedure agreed over the 10 pits should be substantially the same as the industry's Modified Colliery Review Procedure which has such an appeal body.

In a statement last night British Coal said it would amend the consultation procedures over the 10 collieries to 'ensure they contain the independent element which the judge said was the legitimate expectation of our employees and we are considering how to put that into effect'.

It added: 'We have not seen the full judgment but it is clear that there is no requirement to resume coal production at the pits. There is no reason to do so in terms of market need, but we are maintaining the mines in a fit condition to resume coaling depending on the outcome of the statutory consultation.'

Further court action is now in prospect. John Hendy, counsel for the National Union of Mineworkers, yesterday pointed out that about pounds 100m of public money had been paid out in redundancy to pitmen made redundant at the 10 mines, the closure of which had been declared unlawful.

At 9 of the 10 collieries miners were still reporting for duty although there was no production. They were on basic wages and many of them would have lost more than a third of their income.